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!!!