Monday, 20 October 2008


Trust is like china – beautiful but easy to break. Once broken it is difficult but not impossible to mend. So where should we begin? Let’s look at our relationship with God first. Prov 3.5 says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct you paths. Notice the emphasis on, all your heart and all your ways. In every area of our lives God wants us to trust Him – with all our heart. In Ps 86.11 David asked for God to unite His heart. He didn’t want any reservation in his heart towards God. He wanted to be fully devoted, fully surrendered, trusting fully.
But what are we really doing when we put our trust in another person – including God? What do we actually trust about them? I see this expressed in two main areas – a person’s character and their ability or competence. This was expressed in a summary of David’s leadership in Psalm 78.72, So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands. His integrity refers to his character – he was trustworthy. There was something about his motivation of heart that qualified him for this difficult task of leading the flock of God. But he also had skill. There was an ability or competence about the way he lead.

When we put trust in God we are trusting in His character. There are many facets of God’s character we could focus on but the one’s that perhaps give us the most security are His faithfulness and mercy. Lam 3.22-23 says, Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. The dictionary says that someone who is faithful is: worthy of trust, reliable and consistent with truth. Synonyms offered include loyal, true, constant, steadfast and staunch. This is how God is in His essential nature – faithful, true to His word. When He says He will do something He follows through.

However, God’s timing is very different to ours. He will often give a promise and then we have to wait in faith for its fulfilment. This is not a passive period. During this time our faith is being refined. It is what Peter calls, the trial faith that shows forth its genuineness. We wait but with expectation. God gave Abraham the promise of a son but then waited. Abraham had to learn to trust God. As time went by, it seemed even more impossible that the promise could be fulfilled. Finally as an old man God appeared to Abraham and Sarah declaring, Sarah your wife shall have a son, Gen 18.10. Sarah laughed – hardly the response of someone in faith. But God challenged her laughter and reminded her, Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Within a year she gave birth to Isaac whose name means laughter. God had the last laugh! Abraham and Sarah went on a journey with God – literally. They wondered through the Promised Land and through many experiences they learned how to trust God – with all their heart, in every area of life. Perhaps this is why God could ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He knew where his trust was placed. Hebrews 11 helps us understand what was going on in Abraham’s heart. It says in verse 19, concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. This is astonishing considering the time that Abraham lived in. He worked out that the only way God could fulfil His promise was if He raised Isaac from the dead. He believed and trusted in a God of resurrection. Amazing!

But this brings us to the second point; God’s ability. God is able to do what He says, Is anything too hard for the Lord? It is one thing to have good character but another to have ability. Many times we make promises to others that are well meaning yet we can let people down. There are various reasons for this. Take the simple promise of agreeing to meet someone at a certain time. Train delays, cancelled planes or road works can all conspire to make it impossible to keep our word. Our intension was good and sincere at the time but circumstances out of our control overtake us. We are usually gracious in such circumstances.

But it highlights an important truth – we are not in control. This is meant to create a more humble approach to life especially when it comes to making plans or promises. James addresses this issue when he says, come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell and make a profit, whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that, James 13-15. There is so much in life that we have no control over, yet we plan things without reference to the Lord. Real trust always brings God into the picture.

At other times we let people down because we overestimate our ability to deliver what we promise. Paul speaks to this issue when he says in Rom 12.3, to everyone, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. We are meant to function within our ability. Sometimes through jealousy, guilt, peer pressure, or some other reason we step outside of that ability. People feel let down and over time trust breaks down. This is where we need a sober appreciation of where our gifting lies. Competence is as important as character. Without it we are only making well meaning pledges. Disappointment is bound to follow.

There is of course the possibility that we lie to others. This happens all the time in the world. In the business world we tell ‘white lies’ hoping to defer peoples anger and buy us more time to put things right. We don’t admit to a customer that their product is late because we forgot to order it on time. It’s easier to say our supplier let us down. But this kind of ethic has a way of catching up on us. When folk find out we have made a habit of doing this our integrity is shot and trust is broken. The key is this: don’t let your gifting take you where your integrity can’t keep you.

I have observed that we still go to one of two extremes on this issue. We can appoint a good person with great character to a task they are not gifted to do. We in effect set them up for failure. This is unfair on them and the organisation they work for. The other extreme is that we spot a gifted person and appoint them to a role they are not yet mature enough to handle. Their character is not yet fully formed sufficiently. Again we have set them up for failure. We need both – character and competence, integrity and ability, heart and hands.

Now in God these qualities reside in abundance. His character is trustworthy and His ability is limitless. As we follow Him we also grow in those qualities – we become conformed to the image of His Son, Rom 8.29. This kind of trust releases many benefits. The first of course is salvation. Isaiah 12.2 says, Behold God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for YAH the LORD is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation. God is our deliverer! He is able to save us from the penalty of sin, the power of sin and ultimately the presence of sin.

Notice how this releases praise. He has become our song when we trust Him. Trusting people are full of joy. They are like those Paul describes in Eph 5.18-19, filled with the Spirit speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. They have a song because they trust in Him and He has become their song. This has a big impact. David said, He has put a new song in my mouth – praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord. Blessed is the man who makes the Lord His trust... Ps 40.3-4. Others trust in God when they see the joy we carry expressed in songs of praise to Him. It makes a difference. Even our worship can have an evangelistic impact.

Isaiah 26.3 says, You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in you. When we put our trust in God we exchange all of our uncertainty and anxiety for His peace. Luther called it the divine exchange. God’s shalom guards our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ, Phil 4.6-7. We don’t need to live in fear. Trusting him can release us from every anxiety. Our responsibility is to give over everything to God – in all our ways to acknowledge Him.

Jeremiah 17.5-8 makes a contrast between those who put their trust in God and those who put their trust in people only. The man whose heart departs from God and looks only to others is like the shrub in the desert. Good may come to him but he doesn’t see it. His focus is somewhere else. He is conscious of the heat, the drought and the lack. But the man who trusts in the Lord is described as blessed. What a beautiful word that is. God’s favour rests on such a person. The metaphor changes drastically. This person is like a tree. Their roots go deep so that even in a drought they have a secret supply that nourishes them. They continually bear fruit – despite the drought.

People who trust God live with the blessing of God over their life. His favour follows them, just like it did with Joseph. Despite the injustices that came to him God ensured that at every turn he was promoted. It was part of his calling! And Joseph kept his integrity when it would have paid him to give it away. But he saw beyond the short term gain this might bring and trusted God. His vindication followed, but not before all trace of self dependence had been dealt with. Here’s the thing about trust, you really don’t know how much you have till everything else that matters to you is stripped away. Job discovered this. Yet he held fast to his integrity declaring, though he slay me, yet will I trust Him, Job 13.15.

So how do we build or rebuild trust? Here are some pointers that have helped me:
1. Do what you agree to do. In other words follow through on your promises. Like building a house, each fulfilled promise is like laying a brick. The simple repetition of being true to your word over time builds trust.

2. Don’t go beyond your ability. Have a sober appreciation of your gifting and maturity. Allow yourself to be stretched, but always let people know that’s what is going on. You won’t easily recover when you let people down too many times.

3. Admit mistakes, apologise and ask for forgiveness.

4. Only offer an explanation if it is asked for, otherwise you will sound self-justifying. "I’m sorry but...", has a hollow ring to it.

5. Don’t neglect the little things. Jesus said if you are faithful in what is least you are faithful also in much, Luke 16.10. Getting into work on time, delivering on agreed goals, showing appreciation. These are the little things that build trust.

6. Allow yourself to be seen in different contexts. This is especially true in dating. Someone can really impress you when you are alone with them. But take a look at what your family think of them and how they behave and handle themselves in that context. What about in their own home environment? At work? Different contexts give us a much bigger picture of people.

7. Forgiveness is crucial when we fail. If we are to deal with the past we must give and receive forgiveness. But it not a cure all. It clears the ground but we still need to build for the future. Many times there are hurts. Therefore ask the person you have offended what makes them feel secure. What can you do that helps them trust you? The issue is what is important to them, not you. The danger here is that we place all kinds of expectations based on our fears. These must be faced. But it is better to create expectations based on faith – not fear. This gives us the opportunity to trust again. It is a journey. It requires great honesty.

At the end of the day to trust is a choice we make and a risk we take. There are no guarantees. Jesus chose Judas on the same basis as Peter, James and John. Yet Judas betrayed His trust. It did not destroy Jesus and broken trust does not have to destroy us. God is bigger. Ultimately our trust must be in Him.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Four Ways to Honour God

The scriptures teach us that God is looking for those who will honour Him. In an encounter with the priest Eli He said, “Those who honour me I will honour”, 1Sam 2.30. I want to explore some practical things we can do to honour God. We’ve been looking at ways to honour one another but all of this is rooted in our desire to honour the Lord. This must be the foundational motivation behind any honour we give to each other.

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The two are of course connected. John demonstrates this connection in his first letter, ‘If someone says, “I love God” , and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?’, 1Jn 4.20. We could legitimately substitute the word honour for love and still be making a true statement. Our vertical relationship with God will be reflected in our horizontal relationships with one another and vice-versa. They impinge on each other.

So what does it mean to honour God? I want to focus on four things that have helped me in my own walk with the Lord. They have kept my heart in times of great pressure and temptation. After all, sin is ultimately dishonouring attitudes or behaviour towards God or others. By focusing on what we should do we won’t have time for what we shouldn’t do!

The first for me is worship from the heart. Isaiah 29.13 says of Israel: “Inasmuch as these people draw near me with their mouths and honour me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the commandment of men.” This period of Israel’s history when they departed from God is repeated in the days of Jesus and He quotes these very words in Matt 15.8. Note that they had all the outward forms of religion without any engagement of the heart. Ritual had replaced reality, routine had replaced revelation and being reasonable had replaced being radical. It was tragic. And God was tired of it.

In 2Sam 6.13-23 we have the story of the return of the Ark to Jerusalem. It was a day of celebration, worship, music and dancing and blessing all the people. Here David danced before the Lord with all his might in a linen ephod. A king, wearing nothing to distinguish him from the way the common people responded. It would like dancing in your Calvin Kline underwear today. Outrageous! David returned home to bless his household and was met with the scathing sarcasm of Michal, his wife – Saul’s daughter.

David’s response is telling. “It was before the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over all the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore I will play before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honour. Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death”, 2Sam 6.21-23.

Notice the qualities of this heartfelt worship:
1. It was before the Lord. Worship from the heart is never ultimately before men, it is before God. David was not self conscious in the presence of the Lord. He freely responded from his heart to God. The focus was the Lord, not David’s dancing.

2. David saw what he did as play. Most Bibles include the word music but it isn’t there in the Hebrew. It may be implied given the occasion but I like to think that David saw worship like play. Every parent knows the joy they feel when they see their children at play. Children love to perform for their parents. It brings a joyful exchange. What David did was ‘before’ the Lord and ‘for’ the Lord. This was truly honouring God.

3. Finally David was prepared to be ‘undignified’ and ‘humble in my own sight’. Worship from the heart is never pretentious. There is a place for being dignified but David recognised that titles and position was not important when it came to worshipping God. Michal was obviously embarrassed by his behaviour. Kings should not behave this way. But David understood a great truth. Worship is not about focusing on who we are, it is about focusing on who He is. True humility is not about thinking less of yourself, it is about thinking of yourself less. When we are self conscious about how others see us in worship we have lost something of the freedom of true worship.

Worship that is from the heart will engage our whole being, spirit, soul and body. We have often learned to be restrained in our expressions of worship in church. But in almost any culture we see unrestrained expressions of support, (worship) at International football games. People are involved, cheering, singing and responding. We need to recapture this freedom of worship and allow the joy we feel in our spirit’s to be expressed through our bodies while engaging our minds.

How sad to be the people of God in name only. As His people we are called to show forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. And all true praise must come from the heart.

The second way we can honour God is with our possessions. Prov 3.9 says; Honour the Lord with your possessions and with the first fruits of all your increase. Money is a tricky subject to speak about. We can often think there is an agenda when someone does this. But money is neutral. It depends in whose hands it is in as to what can be done with it.

A golf club in my hands won’t do much, but in the hands of Tiger Woods it could win ‘The Open’. So it is with money. Money speaks to land and says, ‘I can but you’. Money speaks to hunger and says, ‘I can feed you’. Money speaks to missions and says, ‘I can send you’. A righteous man know what to do with money and he begins by giving to God – first.

In the book of Malachi we have a series of questions asked by the Lord to His people. The whole issue is ultimately summerised in one word – honour. Mal 1.6 says, ‘a Son honours his father and a servant his master. If I then am the father where is my honour? And if I am a master, where is my reverence?’ Later God contends further with them, ‘and when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil. And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil?’ The people were despising God in their offerings. God measured the value of their worship by the quality of the sacrifice they brought.

Like their forefathers they were bringing second rate offerings, that which did not truly cost them anything. God’s word is even stronger in chapter 3. They were robbing Him, Mal 3.8. Deut 8.18 tells us that wealth is something God gives to us in order for us to be a blessing to others. Nothing tests our trust in God more than when we give. In Matt 6.24 Jesus teaches that the ultimate loyalty in life will be between money or God. We cannot serve both.

By giving to God first we are in effect telling Him that we trust Him to meet our needs. And God deserves our best, not our leftovers and rejects. To do this is to despise Him. Once again Israel had fallen into the trap of substituting ritual for reality. Instead of being radical in their giving they were routine. They saw their possessions as being theirs rather than part of a stewardship given by God. The problem with possessions is they have a way of possessing us. We think we own them but they end up owning us. The acid test of this condition is simply to ask yourself how hard is it for you to let go of something.

I remember asking God to help me be more generous. I clearly remember the Holy Spirit telling me to give away all the clothes I had not worn for a year. I duly complied except for two pairs of suits that I really liked. In fact they no longer fitted me well. My waistline had increased but I kept telling myself I would lose weight and then they will fit again. This disobedience persisted for two months. I kept rationalising that I had already given away a lot of good stuff away. But every time I opened the cupboard there were the suits and my conscience was pricked.

We often rob ourselves of peace through delayed obedience. This was the case for me. Eventually I gave in. What amazed me was hope much joy I finally felt. These garments no longer had power over me. I could use them to bless others. Over the next two years three different people bought me new suits – and they all fit! Ask yourself what you currently possess that would be hard to let go of. Perhaps t holds you more than you hold it. Seek to practice generosity in a way that continually breaks the power of mammon over your life and places you more in dependence on God.

The third way of honouring God is through our service. Jesus said in John 12.26, ‘If anyone serves Me let him follow Me; and where I am there My servant will be also. If any man serves Me, him My Father will honour’. Notice the order here. The service comes out of following Jesus, not the other way around. In following Jesus I am lead to serve – and He chooses where this should be.

I have at times served out of guilt (I ought to...), obligation (I must...), manipulation (persuaded against my better judgment) or my own unmet needs for recognition. Those times brought no joy to me and no honour to God. Psalm 100.1 says, ‘serve the Lord with gladness’. We are meant to enjoy following the Lord. True we will face challenging and demanding situations at times but the promise is, ‘Where I am there My servant will be also’. It is the guarantee of His personal presence that brings joy to service. It comes out of following Him.

A true servant of God is first a follower of God. This was the first and last thing Jesus said to His disciples, Matt 4.19, ‘Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men’. John 21.19......’Follow Me’. And later in vs22 he says, ‘If I will that he remain til I come, what is that to you? You follow Me’, could anything be more simple and yet more profound? It is the willingness to journey with Jesus that qualifies us to be true servants of God.

I have found that when I serve out of the conviction that am doing what God wants me to do, I enjoy the task. Step back for a moment and reflect on why you are serving in the particular sphere of ministry you are involved with. Could God move you on if he chose to or are you deriving your sense of identity from what you do? When Elijah announced that there would be no rain, except at his word you would have thought that would have been the beginning of fruitful ministry. But then God sent him to a widow – outside of Israel!

For three years he was hidden, 1Kings 17.1,9. But his service and identity was not in having a successful prophetic ministry, it was simply in following God. Notice how Elijah phrases it, ‘As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand....’ Elijah could give commands because he knew how to take commands. He was following God, not a personal ministry agenda.

The final area I believe enables us to honour God is through faith. Consider this event in the life of Jesus. He returns to His home town of Nazareth and preaches in their synagogue, Matt 13.53-58. But they were offended at Him. Jesus response and the outcomes are instructive: He said, ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house. Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief’. Notice how a lack of honour led to an attitude of unbelief.

Faith is always looking for ways to honour God, whereas those in unbelief are constantly offended. Jesus was perfect and they were offended with Him; how much more His imperfect servants? Many offences we experience are so minor they are not worthy of the time and attention we give to them. People of faith are able to overlook these faults. Paul calls it, ‘bearing with one another in love’, Eph 4.1. Offended people become imprisoned by their own judgements against others. This attitude of heart is not honouring to God.

We are told in Ps 95 not to ‘harden our hearts ‘. This warning is repeated in Hebrews 3. ‘Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion...’ The children of Israel could not enter into the promise land because of their unbelief. Unbelief delayed the purpose of God by 40 years. They dishonoured God in their heart and died in the wilderness. Tragic!

This connects right back to my first point. It is why worship from the heart is so important and why it is the focus of the early verses of Psalm 95. A worshipping heart is an open heart that God can speak to. When our heart is open we can receive His word – and this is how faith comes, Rom 10.17, ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God’. God is pleased with faith, Heb 11.6. Moses forsook the pleasures of Egypt choosing greater riches – the reproach of Christ, Heb 11.25-26. This honoured God and he in turn was honoured.

As you reflect on how your life honours God you may, by the help of the Spirit, want to make some adjustment. We all need to learn to worship from the heart, be generous with our possessions, serve out of followership and be filled with faith. By cultivating these disciplines we will bring honour to the name above every other name. And, in turn, He will honour us!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Honour your Father and Mother...

Having looked at four different levels of honour, intrinsic value, character value, achievement value and position value I want to explore four different spheres within position value. They deal with the four major areas of life where we experience authority, home, work, church and the state. Scripture addresses each of these areas as an important place for us to show honour. I particularly want to focus on the one area that is deserving of more treatment; honour within the home.

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Paul brings to mind something unique about the fifth commandment of Ex 20.12. Honour your father and mother that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth. It is the first commandment to carry with it a promise, Eph 6.1. It is almost as if God wanted to add an incentive to keep this commandment, because it has such a profound impact on our lives. The clear implication is that if we don’t keep it, things won’t go well and we won’t live long on the earth. Added length of days and life ‘going well’ are promised to those who fulfil this command.

Notice how this command to honour our parents is rooted in the position they hold as parents – not how good they were as parents. As with all those who hold positions of office, there are those who are good and those who are bad. Our honour of them is not rooted so much in their behaviour or their character. That is a bonus if they are good and honourable people. Rather, it is rooted in the simple reality that they are the ones who biologically brought us into the world.

The difficulty comes when we have to deal with the shortcomings and failures of parents. What is our attitude meant to be? What does it mean to honour in such circumstances? Consider Noah, a righteous man who one day got drunk and was found naked by one of his sons. This son, Ham, immediately told his brothers, Shem and Japheth. Instead of gazing on their father as their brother had done they entered the tent where he was lying by walking backwards and threw a garment over him to cover his nakedness. They continued to hold him in honour even when he failed.

Honour, which is essentially an attitude of heart, is always expressed through some cultural practice or tradition. For instance we honour birthdays by sending birthday cards and buying presents. We honour silver or gold weddings by special celebrations. But what cultural practices have we developed to honour our parents?

For some the notion of honour towards parents means doing what they say. This is clearly implied in Paul’s use in Eph 6.1-2. Paul begins by addressing children telling them to obey their parents, but then addresses fathers. The force of his argument rests on a contrast between obedience from the children and loving discipline from the fathers. Fathers need to be careful not to overcorrect their children, ‘and take the heart out of them’ as JB Philips says.

Our obedience is an indication of the submission and consequently the honour that we give to authority in our life. But we need to be careful here. Paul is addressing children not adults. Those still under parental authority. In the Bible submission is an absolute but obedience is relative. Submission is always an issue of the heart but obedience is an issue of behaviour. Thus we can be submissive and sometimes disobey!

Consider Peter and John who were sternly warned by the Sanhedrin not to speak any longer in the name of Jesus. Their response is telling. Whether it is right to obey God or men you judge – we cannot but speak of the things we have seen and heard, Acts 4.19-20. They submitted to the council and any punishment they would meet out, but they could not obey them. To do so would be to directly disobey the command of Jesus.

Scripture helps us to know when it is right to disobey those in authority, whether it is civil authority, parents, bosses or church leaders. Each one has legitimate authority but only to a certain degree. If they overextend their sphere of authority, we have every right to disobey, while maintaining a submissive heart. In other words we respectfully disagree!

So when is it right to behave this way? Experience and scripture have taught me that there are essentially three reasons for disobeying authority:

1. When it is contrary to what has been clearly and unambiguously taught in scripture. This is because the word of God is our ultimate authority. All come under its rule and judgement and it is therefore our highest court of appeal. When a person tries to use scripture to justify sinful behaviour, be they teacher, pastor, politician or parent then we have a right and responsibility to refuse to comply. The early Christians understood this principal, refusing to deny the Name of Jesus on pain of death. They submitted to the ruling of the courts that sentenced them to death (showing their honour of authority) but they would not deny Jesus (and through their disobedience they honoured His Name).

2. When it is contrary to conscience. This is outlined by Paul in Rom 14-15 and 1Cor 8-10. The human conscience is a sensitive instrument. It will not be argued with and does not listen to reason. Its verdict is all or nothing, right or wrong, good or bad. There are no shades of gray, no in-between areas, no ‘no man’s land’. To violate our conscience just because another tells us to is bad for our spiritual wellbeing. Martin Luther understood this when he stood before the Diet of Worms in 1521. He had to make a stand when his Protestant views were condemned as heretical by Pope Leo III.

Luther respectfully but boldly stated, "Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." Someone else’s freedom is not meant to be the basis for our decisions. Scripture and conscience have that title – no-one else. (Check out this site to see the movie clip of this scene. It stars Ralph Fiennes and Peter Ustinov)

3. When it is contrary to Civil Law that upholds scripture. When those in authority ask us to do things that are illegal, we have every right to refuse. The NT writers encouraged believers to keep and obey civil law, including paying taxes. This was part of honouring those in positions of power. To take or sell illegal drugs is a clear violation of law. These are examples of where we must take a stand for the truth.

Now here is the challenging part. We are allowed to disobey but not to rebel! What’s the difference? Rebellion has more than a behavioural aspect to it. Obedience focuses exclusively on behaviour. But rebellion conveys an attitude of heart. I can remain humble and submissive to someone in authority and still refuse to comply with their request if it violates any of the cases outlined above. The real issue is my demeanour. Do I came across in a disrespectful manor, arrogant and judgmental or do I appear respectful in disagreement?

Take the example of Hannah in the OT; a woman in deep sorrow who is pouring her heart out to God. Eli completely misjudges her and accuses her of being drunk, 1Sam 1.12-14. Notice how respectful she is in her reply to him, 1Sam 1.15-18. We know from the text that Eli is not pleasing God and his entire house will be severely judged, 1Sam 2.27-36. Yet he is the one who proclaims over her life the promise that God will answer her request, 1Sam 1.17.

Now let’s get back to the issue of honouring our parents. It is almost a given today that teenagers go through a rebellious phase. My concern is that we help them realise how unhelpful it is to develop entrenched attitudes of resentment towards their parents. There will come the time for all children to enter adulthood and be their own person. Such a time may well involve disappointing the unreal expectations of parents. Saying no in effect to what they want. We transition from obeying them to making our own decisions and being responsible for our own lives.

But while we do this we must maintain an attitude of honour. This is hard for both sides. A wise parent will give more and more decision making power to their child as they grow up. Especially as they approach adulthood. I have seen children grow up and remain paralysed from making decisions because they are so used to doing everything their parents told them. They have not learned to decide for themselves. Given that it is also the time when many leave home and go to university is it any wonder that they lose their moral compass.

In the case of my own father I have walked a difficult road. Whilst he was a God-fearer he had no personal faith in Christ when I was growing up. My own encounter with Christ in my early twenties was dramatic. It changed the course of my life literally. I left University 9 months before completing my degree in Civil Engineering to go to Bible College. My father’s only way of understanding this event was to think I had been brainwashed. Our parting words when I left home were bitter. He expressed his disappointment in me and I charged him with being a judgemental Pharisee!

We didn’t speak for 6 months. When we did it was strained to say the least. Yet I desperately wanted to honour him, but not at the expense of my own conscience and what I believed to be obedience to Christ. I wrestled with this issue constantly. I felt the Lord tell me to visit him regularly, (I tried to do it monthly), always send a father’s day card and remember his birthday. These small tokens were my attempt to still communicate that I valued him.

This strain went on for years. He refused to attend my wedding and I never received any affirmation from him when I entered full time ministry and began to lead a church. I cannot recall one time when he looked me in the eye and said ‘I love you’. I had to learn to receive these affirmations from my father in Heaven.

Years later I was speaking at an International Bible College on the subject of ‘The Fatherhood of God’. I woke early one morning with the clear sense God wanted to speak to me. At sat at my desk with pen and paper and a Bible to hand. I felt a clear impression that I was to write a letter to my father – saying how much he meant to me. ‘Tell him what a hero he has been to you’, was the clear sense I was left with.

I struggled with this thought for some time. “My father, my hero – you’re kidding me”, I thought. But I couldn’t shake this idea. In fact, I felt that if I didn’t comply with this prompting my teaching ministry in the College would be completely ineffective. I prayed.

In that moment a picture emerged in my mind of my father. Little pieces of information he had shared over the years came together like different pieces of a jigsaw and I began to see him differently. The piece about the time he lost his mother at the tender age of 15. The struggle he had as the 5th child with a father who was away at sea most of the time. As a famous Captain of ships my grandfather had little time for investing in his own sons. His older brother who got a local girl pregnant and so was shipped off to the States to preserve the family honour – a brother he would never see again.

I remembered the piece about his own father who was so inept at handling finances that he brought the family to virtual bankruptcy. My father took over the control of those finances at 16 and within four years had turned things around only to be accused by his father of taking money for himself.

Then there was the piece about going through the Second World War and losing friends; a marriage during that time that ended with his wife running off with someone else. The hope that returned when he met my mother – a beautiful Italian, who told me she had never met a kinder man. Then I remembered all the times as a young boy that we spent together working on cars; every Saturday until the Sports came on in the afternoon! We stripped down carburettors, changed air filters and fitted radios together – for hours.

I remembered the time I came home drunk at the age of 16. My father didn’t want to speak to me. I cried like a baby I felt so ashamed. He heard me crying and promptly plonked me into a cold bath while plying me with black coffee. At no time did he berate or scold me. I think you’ve learned your lesson was his only comment.

As this picture emerged I felt so much of the pain he had carried and I wept. Considering all the building blocks that were missing in his own experience he really hadn’t done too badly. By this time I was a father of four. My own shortcomings were more evident to me. So in those quite, reflective hours I wrote my letter and sent it off first post.

Months later I was visiting home and noticed a softening in his tone. We didn’t speak of the letter but I asked my mother if he talked about it. Her response was telling. “He didn’t speak about it, but I have only seen your father cry twice in our married life; once when his brother died and the other time, when he read your letter”.

It didn’t end there. God kept prompting me to hug him and tell him I loved him. My father is ‘old school’. Big boys don’t cry and men show affection by a handshake – that’s it! The first time I succeeded in hugging him was awful. A flight of stairs led to his apartment and the front door opened directly on to the stairs. As he put out a hand to greet me I pulled him off balance towards me. He fell into my arms and I hugged him. It was like hugging a plank of wood. Not much response except for a lot of coughing and obvious embarrassment on both sides.

Alongside of all this my own brother, a Baptist pastor by this time, was extending unconditional love to our father, caring for him and hosting him on the many visits he made down to Essex. As I softened in my judgement of this man he softened. It seemed so unfair that God would expect me to father my father, to take the initiative he should be taking. But this is exactly what He wanted. I had more understanding than he did and so I was more accountable.

He eventually came to a real faith in Jesus and my brother and I were present at his death. My children only remember the wonderful man who was soft, tender and always interested in what you had to say. When he died I was clearing out his things. I found my letter. Carefully preserved in its original envelop. Here is an extract.
As you read it, my prayer is that you to will be able to find a way to bring honour to your parents and perhaps see a different and more accurate picture of whom they really are. Maybe you’ll be inspired to write your own letter. For those of you who are wondering, I went back to University and gained a Masters degree in Management Learning. My father was there at the graduation! "It was worth the wait", was his only comment!

Dear Dad
......I’m going to be preparing a series of talks on the Fatherhood of God. I couldn’t help thinking about my childhood and our relationship in the process. I think I’d probably embarrass both of us if I tried to say these things face to face; so these scribbled words are my attempt to share some deep feelings. I just want you to know what a great dad I think you are. You were, you are and you always will be my hero. I only hope I can be half as good with my kids as you’ve been to me. I still remember very vividly the hours we spent together working on the A40, the Popular, the Vauxhall and the Cortina. It was those ordinary moments that still mean so much. I don’t know how you see yourself but I want you to know I think you’re the best. I am full of admiration for you. The knocks in life did not make you bitter and hard they made you soft, tender and understanding. You’ve taught me not to judge people by their outward appearance but to be accepting of peoples faults, (we all have them). I’m so grateful to you, Dad – thank you for being you. Love as always, Peter