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