Tuesday, 26 August 2008

A Father's Legacy

Rom 4.11 tells us that Abraham is the father of all who believe. A father is a progenitor. The dictionary says this is a person who indicates a direction, originates something or serves as a model. This is a key role that all true fathers play. Abraham set the direction for how we are to relate to God on the basis of faith. He was a model for every father of patient endurance believing in the promise and, in time, gave birth to the child of promise. His name was changed from Abram - exalted father to Abraham – father of many nations when as yet he had no children. God gave him a name that was descriptive of who he was and where he was going, his identity and destiny.

Identity answers the question, ‘who am I?’ Fathers pass on a sense of identity through their name. The God of Israel is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is a specific lineage. Jesus descends from the lineage of Judah as the son of David, the rightful heir to the throne of Israel but also as the son of God, the one worthy to be our redeemer. Many surnames in scripture and today reflect this connection to fathers – Simon bar-Jonas is Simon, son of Jonah. Neil Anderson is Neil, son of Anders. 1John 3.1 says, “Behold what manner of love the father has bestowed on us that we should be called children of God”. Through adoption He places His name on us. Jesus is not ashamed to call us brethren, Heb 2.11. We are now part of the family – His family.

This sense of identity is rooted in relationship. Historically the church has emphasised having a common identity based on doctrine – a common belief. However, as time went on, this became more demanding. Instead of emphasising the essential core beliefs that distinguish Christianity we have extended the number of things we must believe in to be part of the group. This has helped to create all of the many denominations that exist today. To not believe the right things, our denominational statement of faith, is to not be part of that family. But the Kingdom of God is not like this. It is big enough to embrace many expressions in the outworking of faith.

John the Baptist was an austere looking figure who didn’t cut his hair, wouldn’t drink wine, had a diet of locusts and wild honey and lived in the dessert. Jesus on the other hand ate all kinds of food, drank and loved parties, especially weddings, where He turned water into wine – gallons of the stuff! Both were rejected by the religious and political leaders of the day. Fathers are not interested in getting their children to conform. They recognise that each is unique and celebrate the difference. Siblings may compete but fathers don’t have to. They are the progenitors.

When Jesus chose the twelve – a process bathed in a session of all night prayer, it is astonishing to review His choice. He chose men who at a social level would never have associated with one another. On the one hand He chose Simon the Zealot. This man was a nationalist. He would have done anything to liberate Israel from Roman oppression – including killing. Today we call these men terrorists.

But He also selected Matthew. His job was to collect taxes on behalf of the Romans. He was therefore seen as a collaborator. Often tax collectors would increase what was taken in order to pocket the difference. Thus they became very wealthy, (remember the story of Zaccheus!). A tax collector was a state sanctioned swindler, hated by the people. Matthew’s betrayal went further. He was a Levite and as such was seen to have abandoned his true calling to care and teach the people as well minister to the Lord.

Imagine these two men having breakfast together! Their common identity was not in what they believed but who they believed. Their encounter with Jesus would change both of them! Each of them had embraced political and secular ideologies that they were committed to. Their willingness to follow Jesus exposed them to the Kingdom of God. This new reality challenged their old way of thinking as deficient. They changed – over time. Jesus demonstrated the wisdom of the father in choosing them in the first place. Above all things fathers have wisdom. But He also shows the patience of the Father as He gives space for them to encounter the Kingdom and change their thinking (the Bible calls this repenting – from the Greek, meta-noia).

Fathers are able to have sons that express themselves differently, but are still part of the same family. They know their identity is rooted in who they are, not what they do. The divisions in Corinth were in large part because of a failure in the believers to see this truth. They became personality centred - a common weakness in immature people. Paul would remind them, I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel, 1Cor 4.14-15.

Fathers also carry a sense of destiny. This answers the question, “where am I going?” Names not only reflect our identity, they reflect our calling or destiny. Abraham had a calling to be father of many. He embraced this calling by faith. God told Him to look at the stars and start counting! It was a creation painting he could look at every night to remind himself of God’s promise. It is in this context that, “He believed God and He counted it to him for righteousness”, Gen 15.6.

We need to exercise faith in the destiny God places on our lives. Many times in the Bible names were changed to help individuals embrace how God sees them. God intervened with Jacob and he became Israel – a prince with God. Jesus intervened with Simon and he became Peter – a piece of rock. The apostles intervened with Joses and he became Barnabas – the son of encouragement. The key point is that fathers are able to see the true calling in a person’s life and speak to that reality before anyone else has seen it.

When Rachel was dying she named her son Ben-Oni, meaning ‘son of my sorrow’. In her pain and disappointment she gave him a name that reflected her experience. How sad that he may have grown up with that label. But his father Jacob was on hand and intervened renaming him Ben-Jamin, meaning ‘son of my right hand’. Jacob would not allow his son to live with a name that was not true to his calling. As much as he loved Rachel, he denied her this dying request.

Much has been written about the story of Jabez. But what is often overlooked is the simple fact that in a genealogy that records the decent of a male lineage the name of Jabez’s father is noticeably absent. Like Ben-Oni, Jabez too was labelled by a mother who gave birth in pain. The only difference is that one of them had a father to intervene and declare his true destiny. I wonder how many years of pain Jabez could have been spared had his father played his role in Jabez’s life. Eventually Jabez broke free but it shows the power of words and the key role fathers have to play.

Our generation today is a generation of absent fathers, either physically or emotionally. As a church we have to embrace a generation in pain; a generation that does not know who it is or where it is going. But to do so is not comfortable. It means giving them permission to come with their baggage while we go on a journey of showing them the Kingdom – a new reality. That baggage will include T shirts with subversive phrases, piercings that look painful, music that is deafeningly loud, and values that are totally secular. Our maturity as fathers is tested by our ability to embrace them as people before we see any change and to speak into their lives what God sees.

Finally, fathers leave a legacy, 2Cor 12.14. Paul was keen for the Corinthian church to understand his motivation. He wasn’t after what they had. He was after them. They were his inheritance! Ps 127 says, “Children are the heritage of the Lord...” The future generation are our inheritance. What they need are fathers who will help them to transition the stages of life that will enable them to, in turn, be fathers to another generation.

My prayer for us as a church is that as we become more secure in whom we are and where we are going, we will leave a lasting legacy to the generation that follows us. A legacy that they, in turn, will pass on to a generation not yet born, Psalm 78.6

Monday, 18 August 2008

Discipline – The Proof of a Fathers Love

Life is a great teacher – so my father used to say! In many ways it’s true. Seldom does anything substitute for the lessons learned from personal experience. However life’s lesson’s can be unnecessarily hard if we are left to negotiate learning on our own. Fathers, in life and in the church, play a key role in transitioning people through the different stages of growth. This comes under the broad category of discipline – a word closely related to disciple. Biblical discipline is not reactive, the way we often experience discipline from our earthly parents. It is something we do for people, not to people. Heb 12 picks up on this theme by outlining 3 benefits of discipline for the believer.

1. It is proof of Sonship. “For whom the Lord loves He chastens...but if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons”, Heb 12.6-8. No one is excluded! The privilege of Sonship brings with it the responsibility of Sonship. God’s discipline in our lives is His commitment to make us fit for the task. Someone once put it like this, “we are training for reigning”. The biblical author is emphasising God’s love as the filter through which everything must pass. The key issue is how we chose to respond to that discipline. Two roads are open to us.

a) Despise what is happening in our life with the consequence that we become discouraged
b) Respectfully submit to the process with the result that we ‘live’. The implication of this simple word is that life becomes fulfilling – it is life to the full that Jesus promised in John 10.10

2. God’s agenda is not only motivated by His love for us but is intended for our, “profit, that we may be partakers of His Holiness”, Heb 12.10. The path to Holiness involves discipline in order to create self discipline. We say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to children in order that they will learn to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ for themselves in the future. The goal is not to give them a set of rules to obey but to create a moral compass within.

We see this clearly when we contrast the giving of the law with the outpouring of the Spirit. The law was external, written on stone. The Spirit is internal, written on the heart. The law defines truth but the Spirit witnesses to truth. The law makes demands about what we should do but the Spirit empowers us to do what is right. The law kills but the Spirit gives life. The law is temporary but the Spirit is eternal.

The danger with trying to be Holy apart from the Spirit is that we can end up like Pharisees, self righteous and judgemental of others. Jesus was not like this. He was accepting of all and had the reputation of being ‘a friend of publicans and sinners’. God’s discipline challenges human pride and self righteousness, humbling us to see the continued need for grace – Heb 12.28.

3. Although the process is not pleasant it has a payoff; “...it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”, Heb 12.11.Discipline yields fruit! But only to those who submit to training. I like this word training. It comes from a Greek word that we now use regularly – Gymnasium. God is in the business of putting us through a workout. Only His agenda is producing spiritual muscle, character that can shoulder the responsibility of leading and discipling others.

Jesus called the twelve and ordained them to ‘bear fruit’, John 15.16. In the context of John 15 Jesus is concerned that the disciples cooperate with the Vinedresser. The pruning is in fact a form of discipline. Something that will benefit the Vine in the long term. Spiritual Fathers have learned this skill. They know when to apply discipline in a way that promotes growth and maturity. They don’t dictate what need to be done but challenge and invite reflection so that the spiritual muscle of discernment becomes the guiding principle for those transitioning into a more mature way of living.

Many of us are at different stages in our personal walk and development as believers. Let me encourage you to use these powerful truths to cultivate a co-operative spirit with God’s discipline in your life. Spiritual maturity is never automatic. It requires us to work with God in His Gymnasium knowing that a payoff is coming.

Once again we had a great weekend in church. John visited us for the first time. He is a local who regularly attends the gym over the road and was drawn to look into church, having noticed how happy people were who gathered outside on a Sunday. John is a Hindu by background, but is clearly seeking for truth. How great that God is drawing these kinds of people into our midst. Pray that he has a clear revelation of the uniqueness of Jesus.

Anna’s testimony was very encouraging. Whilst many were laid off at her place of work she was given a promotion! How awesome it is to know we walk in the favour of God. Times of waiting on Him will be rewarded.

Finally we will be restarting our Connect groups in September. For those not in a Connect group let me encourage you to begin now praying about where you can connect. The corporate meetings on Sunday can achieve a great deal but they must work in tandem with smaller more intimate meetings that take place ‘house to house’. Here we can know and be known. They are the ideal place for us to be helped in our ongoing training in righteousness. Have a great week and stay blessed.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Becoming Fathers

The final stage of spiritual development in John's first letter is that of Fathers. Interestingly in 1John 2.12-14 fathers do not appear in chronological order as one might expect. In his small repetition addressed to children, fathers and young men, it is fathers who come in the middle. Why is this?
Experience has shown me that it is the crucial role of fathers who not only give birth to children but help and facilitate their transition into young men - strong in the word and able to overcome the enemy. John highlights one thing, and repeats it. 'They know Him who is from the beginning'. This was Paul's goal in life - 'that I may know Him...' Phil 3.10. It is a level of maturity that Moses attained to but most of Israel did not - 'He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel', Psalm 103.7. It is this level of intimacy with the heart of God that qualifies us to be fathers to others in the Kingdom.

John writes in his gospel that, 'no man has seen God at any time' - John 1.18. This is a statement on how our own falleness limits us from truly knowing God. Yet he goes on to say, 'The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. Jesus enables us to see and know God as a Father, John 14.7-10. Over 40 times in this gospel Jesus makes reference to the Father. Philip's question to Jesus shows us how it is possible to see and yet not see, 'Have I been with you so long and yet you have not known me Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.' Jesus is not only the obedient Son, but the perfect expression of the heart of God as Father.

This week we saw that one of the key roles of a Father is to be a provider. More specifically a provider of good things. James 1.27 says, 'every good and perfect gift comes from of above, from the Father of lights..'. God gives His children good things. Luke 11.11 emphasis the goodness of God in His giving by contrasting His Fatherhood to that of fallen human fathers. If we would not deceive our children, giving them a stone when they asked for bread, how much more can we have confidence in God the Father to give us what we need when we ask.

Our role as Fathers in the Kingdom it is help a younger generation make this transition. In my own life I remember one of my daughters asking if I could buy her a brand new outfit. (We were living in Denmark at the time. As part of the culture, all children at the age of 14 have a confirmation service in the State church. It involves receiving lots of money from relatives and a new outfit for the occasion. Many of the free churches have a adapted this tradition giving it more a spiritual heart). Before I could answer her one of her siblings blurted out, 'don't bother asking dad, he can't afford it'. These words were like a sword in my heart. I had to withdraw and pray.

In that place of quietness I reflected on my own childhood. I realised how deeply programmed I had become by my own father who often said, we can't afford it'. My parents had come through the war and I am a child of the 50's. Rationing still existed in the UK until then. It left a whole generation with a scarcity mentality. The sacrifices made that were appropriate to war went on for years later. I grew up thinking there was never enough. I took this attitude into adult life, marriage and ministry. Then having 6 children made it easy for me to repeat this programming. But now I felt deeply challenged. I began to ask God to help me break out of this poverty mentality. My first challenge was to change my language, (what we say reflects what we believe!). I felt like the Lord gave me three options.

1. If you think they need what they are asking for and you have the money buy it - even if it's your last penny! I sometimes held back on getting things for fear there would not be enough for other legitimate needs!

2. If you think they don't need it, say no. This was especially challenging. 'We can't afford it', had become an easy stock answer that silenced most conversations and placed the blame somewhere else - silently on God. After all I worked for Him. By saying no I had to deal with any potential conflict that might emerge! It was at this point that I felt convicted to repent of lying. Often I had said 'we can't afford it' when I should have said 'no'. 'We can't afford it', was just the easy option.

3. If you think they need what they are asking for and you don't have the resources then direct them to Me and I will provide - but help them in the journey.

This was much more challenging. A few days later my daughter came to me again asking for a new outfit. Here was my response: 'I really believe you should have a new outfit and my resources are not adequate to cover this cost but our Father in Heaven will provide what you need, let's ask Him together. She began to cry. Through the tears she then asked this question. 'Dad, is that a clever way of saying no?' I knew this experience would be a defining moment for both of us. I responded, 'No I am being genuine. Whatever percentage of faith you have, use it and I will make up the rest. We'll believe God together'.

We prayed and when she left the room I really began to cry out to God - reminding Him of His promise and that both our reputations were now at stake. Two weeks later some friends visited us from another country. They sat down with my wife and I and said the Lord had told them to do something. They felt awkward for two reasons, one was that it was for only one of the children and we have six. Secondly it was the instruction to buy her a new outfit with no financial limits - whatever her heart desired. Were we OK with that!

We all went to one of the most expensive stores in the shopping Mall and she duly chose the most expensive outfit! She looked stunning in this outfit. It was an amazing moment for me and my daughter. I went home rejoicing, lesson learned thinking all was done and dusted.

A few days later she came to me again. 'Dad, I need another outfit for Blue Monday'. (This is the day following the confirmation when all the candidates get together again to celebrate and wear yet another outfit). My answer was clear and unequivocal - No! With a wry grin she turned and declared, 'my father in heaven will give it to me'. 'We'll see' was my cynical thought. A few days later I got another phone call. You've guessed it. God had spoken to someone else to get her another outfit.

I found myself astonished at the generosity and provision of our Father in Heaven. It was a lesson I learned late in life. It's not that I didn't believe God was generous. I've preached loads of messages on the subject. It was believing He would be generous to me and my family. My daughter is so much further in her faith because of this experience. I know I helped it all happen, but it was from a place of weakness, trusting my heavenly Father would come through. This, I believe, is how we transition from sons to fathers. We help others find God as their resource. We help them to dare to believe.

When God sent Nathan to rebuke David it is interesting to see what the issue was from God's perspective. 2Sam 12.8 - I gave, I gave, I gave...and if that had been too little I would have given you much more. Our Father is the God of 'much more'. Sin led David to take, when God was more than willing to give. I wonder how many times we miss what God has for us because fundamentally we think we don't deserve any more. In trying to avoid self indulgence God is not the one who places limits on His generosity - we do. I pray that as we journey towards being fathers in the Kingdom, like Abraham we will take steps of obedience that will enable us to know Him as Yahweh Yirah - the Lord who provides, Gen 22.14.

This week we had the wonderful news that Jan was able to lead her terminally ill father to the Lord. A man who for years has been resistant to the gospel. Let me encourage you to see this as a token of what God wants to do in other families - your family! The Hebrew thought behind the word testimony is 'do it again'. What God does in the lives of others is to inspire us to believe He can do it again - in our circumstances.

We also have Core camp coming up. Take time to pray for this amazing event. We have an awesome youth group and a great team leading these young people. Their commitment and energy is outstanding. As Tiffany shared her experience of Soul Survivor and then Core Camp I was deeply impressed that our event, though small by comparison, has had an enduring impact. Pray too for the amazing 'mums and dads' who will be part of the support team bringing, among other things, an incredible culinary experience to the week!!!

Monday, 4 August 2008

Becoming a Fighter!

In our series on the God of the generations we have begun to explore the next phase of spiritual development; ‘Young Men’.

Like the little children in 1Jn 2.12-13 John also draws our attention to two things. One is in relationship to God and the other in relationship to the enemy. In relationship to God these young men are strong and the word of God dwells in them. Their strength comes out of the word.

The Psalmist asks the question, ‘How can a young man cleanse his way?’ Ps 119.9. He then gives the answer, ‘By taking heed to your word’. This is not a casual relationship to the word. The whole Psalm is one of love and commitment to knowing, understanding and living by the Word. It is summarised in Ps 119.11 by this statement, ‘Your word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you’.

When his word finds a place in our hearts it gives us spiritual authority. This is John’s second point. We have overcome the wicked one. We do this because Jesus has overcome the enemy. As we walk in His word we effectively release the authority of his life against the adversary. Jesus quoted scripture to overcome satan in Matt 4.4. This trial in the wilderness was when Jesus was most vulnerable, but He shows us how to overcome even in our weakness, through the word of God.

The enemy then began to use scripture by taking it out of context to manipulate Jesus into acting presumptuously. But Jesus understood the whole council of God’s word – it is written again... Our effectiveness in warfare will ultimately depend on our commitment to seek and live by the whole counsel of God, Acts 20.27.

We must grow and mature to become Warriors in the Army of God. It means daring to fight – but not in our own strength. Each time we make God’s word a part of our experience by living it and doing it – we are allowing the word to ‘abide’ in us. And as we live in this victory we declare to the world the reality and transforming power of our risen Lord.

I pray that this week we are victorious in engaging the enemy through the strength of God’s word – in us.