Friday, June 19, 2015

Guest Post: A Father's Day Blog

I never understood what it meant to be a child of God until I had children of my own.

As a young adult, I thought of my relationship with God as a relationship between a Father and his adult son: while I saw that God was deserving of my respect, I thought we were at a comparable intellectual level. I assumed that we understood each other the same way my father and I understood each other.

I became a father in 2011 with the adoption of our firstborn, Sam. Over Sam’s first year I slowly realized the arrogance of my assumption but at the same time, I came to treasure God’s Fatherly tenderness more than anything else in all the world.

Consider Matthew 7.7-12. Jesus says,

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you, for everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

I thought that Jesus was teaching here that God answers prayer, and that’s true, this passage does teach that God answers prayer but, what’s more important is that it teaches us how God answers prayer. God answers prayer like a Father caring for his children. Jesus isn’t trying to teach us about prayer so much as he is trying to teach us what God is like. God is like a Father. God is a Father. Our Father.

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.

Consider Romans 8.14-17. The Apostle Paul writes,

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God, for you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him."

When we became Christians we “did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” We did not exchange our bondage to sin for a new kind of bondage but our bondage is gone entirely. We are adopted into the family of God; we are His dear little children.

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?

The Apostle Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit inside us causes us to cry out to our Father, “Abba!” or “Papa!” That tells me what kind of relationship God wants: he wants me to put my arms up to Him and cry out, “Papa!” Because, really, that's how much I need God: the same way a little child needs a father. God thinks of me the same way I think of my daughter when she stretches out her arms for me to lift her up and says, “Cue me, Papa.” And I fold her tiny little self into my arms and she puts her head against my chest and she knows she's taken care of. What more could a father want from his child?

I really think that's all God wants from us: to just let Him be our Father; to let Him hold us and take care of all our needs. He wants us to know that all we need is Him because if we have Him, we have everything.

Consider 1 John 3.1-4. The Apostle John writes,

"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure."

See what kind of love the Father has for us? We are God's children, not by some mistake, not by accident. But we were chosen, we were adopted. God chose to set His love on us and bring us into His family, to make us His own.

So, what are we really like, as children of God? For most of my life I thought of myself as a grown-up child of God. I thought I could understand my heavenly Father, I thought I was independent. Having my own children reversed my thinking: I’m not like a grown-up, independent son who can move out of the house and get a job and drive a car, no. In my experience as a child of God, I’m more like a wee baby or a toddler.

It didn’t take me very long as a new father to learn that there's this kind of annoying quality about ba- bies: 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 maybe 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, he’s just wailing and screaming and thrashing around, he’s behaving like I'm never going to give it to him—even though, here I am, get- ting his food ready in plain sight—he's behaving like he’s in the depths of bitter despair because he real- ly believes that I'm just going to let him starve to death, the poor thing! Even though, we’ve done this before, we’ve done it every single day of his life so far! He got hungry and he got fed. Sometimes he even got fed before he knew he was hungry. So, what’s with this complete lack of faith?

So, I see 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 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.

As a baby, Sam hated getting dressed. Getting him into a pair of pants was a real struggle. He'd scream until his face turns red and he had these veins that popped out on the side of his head and he'd fight and fight so that had to pin him to the floor with my legs. And he was a pretty strong baby. I had to wrestle him into his pants, and into his shirt and his sweater. I’m his father; it didn’t please me that dressing was such torture for him. I dressed him because I didn’t want him to be cold. He would go out into the snow naked if I let him, and he’d freeze. But getting into his clothes would make him so mad, he’d scream and thrash and fight. And it never ended well for him, you know, he never got his way. I never threw up my hands and said, ‘OK, Sam. You go out and play in the snow naked.’ No, I was stronger than him, I out- weighed him by about a hundred and sixty pounds, he never had a chance of winning against me but he still tried with every ounce of his strength. You have to admire his courage, but he was a little stupid.

But I can see how I’m just like that, wrestling against God. I can't win, fighting against God, but I try any- way. I hardly ever just surrender and say, ‘Okay, I trust you. You know best. I'll go with you on this.’ In- stead 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 be- cause 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 I think God gives us babies is so we'll see how foolish we really are.

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

I don't pray because I have to remind God to take care of me. When I pray, “Give us day by day our daily bread,” I’m not reminding God that I 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.

At Matthew 6.25-34, Jesus says this:

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yetyour heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

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 feeds them. Are you not of much more value 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?'

The flowers and the birds 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 anything they can do for us, we value them because of what they are. They show off God's great glory just by being what they are. Just by being.

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 be- have like we can impress God with what we can do? God values us because we're His Children, not be- cause of anything we do for Him.

I love being able to do things for my babies. It’s so satisfying to meet their needs. And when they just trust me, like when they’re too tired to fight and they let me carry them and they just put their head on my shoulder and hold me, nothing can make me a happier father. Sometimes, they just want to be with me, they’ll want to snuggle, or to sit on my lap, or one of them will 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 their 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, ‘Your 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 care as a Father in the verses we read and realizing, this isn’t just theology, Jesus is talking about God’s Fatherly tenderness—as MY father, mine! 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 never going to enjoy my presence. And, really, that's all I want from him. My love and my esteem for my children is not conditional on anything they can do or accomplish, it's just that I love them, no matter what. God's love and God's esteem for His children is not conditional on anything they can do or accomplish, He just loves us, no matter what. We can't change His love for us.

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 already 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 then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive 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 until I learned God’s Fatherly tenderness. 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 we know 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. His heart is tender towards me. I know that I can trust Him.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

One of Those Perfect Saturdays

We woke up to sunshine today, so decided to try taking the kids on a hike.
Patrick wrangled them into their clothes while I threw a picnic together, then we swiped on some sun cream and headed out to the Cascades.

It was gorgeous outside.  The sun was hot and the breeze was cool and constant, keeping bugs at bay.  Clouds sailed high in the sky like kites, and birds chirped from every tree.

Kachi snuggled against me in his carrier, adorable and silly, trying to pick up the freckles from my collarbones.  Sam and Vava were on the lookout for "aminals" ... zebras and kangaroos and crocodiles and lions.  They did find ants, bumblebees, birds, and dogs (and even a dog named Joey), but they were pretty bummed at the lack of wildlife.  (Curious George, I blame you for their high expectations!)

Their faces lit and they stood still with astonishment and joy when they saw the Cascades.

They ran wild and brave across the huge rocks and watched the water churning foam below.

We picnicked in the sunshine and Vava was Big Brown Dog but Sam and Kachi were just Sam and Kachi, three happy goons gobbling cheese and grapes and peanut-butter crackers with fresh-air appetites. 

They looked for kangaroos the whole ride home.

It was just one of those perfect Saturdays, when my heart could burst for gladness.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Baskets and Lines and What the Bible Says About Caitlyn

When I was in Zambia, I spent a week at a Mission Hospital.  One evening, the hospital showed an AIDS awareness video.  The audience was watching and listening attentively, when the camera panned across a river, where a man stood fishing with a basket.
The crowd erupted.  There were hoots of derision, tongues clucking in disapproval, people even threw things at the screen.

I was baffled by the uproar.

My friend explained how in this tribe, only women fish with baskets; men fish with lines. The tribe in the video did the opposite: only men fish with baskets; women fish with lines.

Of course there is nothing essentially male or essentially female about a basket or a line, it's a cultural tradition that is so ingrained that anything different seems wrong.

We had our own little uproar this week, didn't we, Christians?

It's important to remember that we aren't guardians of tradition, but grateful recipients of grace.

If one man decides to fish with a basket, you may fish with a line.
If one woman decides to fish with a line, you may fish with a basket.

We don't need to deride, or yell, or throw things.

In fact, Jesus showed us when Christians can throw stones: never.  (You can read about this in the book of John, chapter 8, verses 1-11.)  And Jesus showed us how to treat people who are different from us - with mercy and tender kindness.  (This one is in the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25-37.)

There's a lot the Bible doesn't talk about, and gender identity is one of them.  So I don't know what God thinks about Caitlyn Jenner's identification.  But I do know what God thinks about Caitlyn Jenner.

It's the same thing He thinks about me, and He does talk about it in the Bible.  A lot.

He loves us sinners so much He sent His Beloved Jesus to die for our sins, so that we might believe on Him and not perish but have everlasting life.  (You can find that verse in the book of John, chapter 3, verse 16).