Monday, 22 June 2009

God - Our Father in Heaven

Fathers Day is a great tradition. It is a time to show a little appreciation for all the sacrifices that dad’s make; to say thanks for who they are – as people. For all of us, fathers have been the key influencers in shaping our outlook on life – both for good and for bad. When it’s good, we approach life with a sense of adventure and self confidence. We are ready to take on the world. Our confidence knows no limits.

When it’s bad we struggle with such as event. What is there to remember? The only memory some have of their dad is a negative one. Perhaps they were abused, ignored or even abandoned by their father. For those whose mothers have been through multiple relationships, this abandonment may have even been repeated, only adding to their pain. The key thing is that in some way or other they were denied the joy of fatherhood. Life for them is a journey beset with lots of inner fears.

This is why I want to talk about God as our Father. Bad childhood experiences may prejudice us from wanting to get to know God as we project the failings of earthly fathers on to Him, but the truth remains that He chooses to reveal Himself as a Father. It was the word most often used by Jesus to refer to God and He encouraged us to do the same. We are told to pray, “Our Father in Heaven.....” Matt 6.9. And this is the point; He is our Heavenly Father. He is the Father, “...from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named”, Eph 3.14. Think of that. Every family in heaven and earth derives its ultimate meaning from the Fatherhood of God.

This word Father is the Aramaic word Abba. It is at the same time one of the most reverential terms and one of the most familiar. The closest we get in our translation to capture the sense of intimacy in this word is Daddy. The reverential part is best captured by the word Father. So what is this Father like? How can we as earthly dads try to emulate who He is? Paul tells us to, “Be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love...” Eph 5.1-2. In other words we are to be like God by walking in Love. In this way we show that we are His children.

Consider 1John 3.8, “He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love”. God is love. This is the most essential trait that shows forth His Fatherhood. Not to love is not to know Him. His Father love has been demonstrated to the world through His supreme act of love – sending Jesus, His beloved Son. The verse translated into the most languages in the Bible is John 3.16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. His love embraces humanity and shrinks at the thought of us perishing.

This idea is captured in Gen 3.22, “....Behold the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now lest he put out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever –“. The sentence breaks off uncompleted. It is as if God cannot bring himself to even say what the consequences would be. Fallen man eating from the tree of life – beyond redemption, as his character is now fixed forever in a fallen condition – unthinkable, unspeakable. And so He stops talking and takes action. He places an angel with a flaming sword to guard the tree of life. There will be no way back to the tree outside of God’s redemptive plan – this is love.

I believe God’s love is demonstrated in three clear ways:

1. He gives. Love motivates Him to give. He gave His Son for a lost humanity. He gave His best and He continues to do so. Are you a giver? If you are, is love the main motivation in your life? The more we embrace the love of God in our lives the less we hold on to stuff. It’s easy to share and give it away. Like Jesus taught, we realise that our life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions, Luke 12.15. Not only that, He does not have limited resources, so when He gives, nothing diminishes. There is always more to draw from. As fathers we need to live with that same confidence – God, our Father in Heaven will provide.

2. He disciplines. Heb 12.5-7, “...For whom the Lord loves He chastens....” God was not punishing Adam by driving him from the Garden of Eden, He was making redemption possible. This is what loving fathers do. Discipline is not something we do to a child it is something we do for a child. This is how our Father in Heaven works with us. He finds creative ways to make life possible. He says ‘no’ and ‘stop it’ because He wants what is best for us. He is love. Good decisions can make us unpopular as fathers, but we usually are able to have more foresight than our children. We really do know what’s best most of the time.

3. He has compassion. Psalm 103.12 NIV, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him”. God feels our pain. This is what it means to be moved with compassion. It means something inside us stirs when we see people in distress. It was evident many times in the life of Jesus because He came to show us what the Father was truly like – a God of great compassion. It is this unique quality that restrains God’s hand of judgment, Lam 3.22.

The Fatherhood of God embraces all those who put faith in Jesus. Not only are we forgiven, we are given the status of sons – adopted into His family. The final adoption will take place at the resurrection but for now we have received a guarantee that that will happen – the Spirit of adoption. It is the Holy Spirit who cries out in our hearts Abba, Father, Gal4.6. 1John 3.1 says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God”.

God loves us and has called us. We are called into His family. The Greek word for son, Huios means a full grown son. In Christ we have a totally new status before God. This is why Jesus could say to His disciples, “Fear not little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”, Luke 12.32. If the King is our Father, then we are heirs of his kingdom. There is something natural about our receiving it—it's our inheritance. In Matt 25:34 it says that in the last day Jesus will say, "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." (Emphasis mine).

From before the world, God the Father prepared a kingdom for his children. It is theirs by the right of inheritance. And God does not begrudge his children coming into their inheritance. It is his good pleasure to give them the kingdom. Like a Father who delights to give good gifts to His children so the Father delights to give the Kingdom to us. This is so much more than being an acquitted sinner; we are fully adopted sons with all the rights and privileges that such a position affords.

This trait of God’s nature is inspiring. I have known many who demonstrate this aspect of God’s character by adopting or fostering unwanted children. There heart is big enough to embrace those they have not personally fathered. Hosea did this with his promiscuous wife. Her second and third child did not belong to Hosea, which were reflected in their names, ‘not my people’ and ‘no mercy’ (or ‘not loved’), Hosea 1.6-9. But, like God, Hosea’s heart was moved for these children. And just as God took Israel back so did Hosea with his wife and the children were adopted receiving new names, ‘my people’ and ‘mercy’, Hosea 2.19-23.

We live in an age of many fatherless families. The church can be a place where many of these children are adopted, maybe not literally, but in the sense that we reach out to them and become the role models that are missing in their lives. This is God’s love in action. Fatherless children shouldn’t feel out of place in church. Rather they should feel this is the one place where they fit.

The final thing about the Fatherhood of God that strikes me is in Eph 1.3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Heavenly places in Christ”. This was one of the most distinguishing features of the Patriarchs – their power to bless. It was something every son looked forward to. At the end of their life these old men would pass something on to their progeny through blessing. It was a pronouncement that carried with it prophetic force, often speaking to their destiny and calling.

Jacob was so ambitious to receive this blessing that he used cunning and deceit, encouraged by his ambitious mother, to gain the blessing. And later in life he blessed his own sons reserving a special blessing for Joseph’s two boys who replaced Joseph among the twelve sons. This was an astonishing blessing. Joseph’s sons were elevated to the same status as their uncles, both of them. It was unthinkable in such a culture at that time; such was the power of the Father to bless.

And this is what God is like. He blesses us, in Christ. Every spiritual blessing that we need for life and happiness is ours in Christ. So now we too can be like Him and bless others. I remember when my children were very young, 3 or 4 yrs of age. After telling them a good night story I waited until they had fallen asleep. Then I crept back into the room and prayed over them, blessing them. While they slept, I spoke over them words of protection, encouragement and prayed into their futures. This is part of the blessing of being a father; we have authority to bless our children.

So as you remember Fathers Day, thank God for the great job your earthly father did and where he failed, thank God that you have a Father in Heaven who loves you, calls you and is determined to bless you. Let's reflect these qualities to a fatehrless generation and win them back to the purpose of God in Christ Jesus.