Trusting Fatherhood

Nothing damaged my trust in God as my father more than this mystery. I simply could not reconcile the idea of Him as a good father with the reality that he sent His Son to suffer and die when He could have come instead. After all, if God the Son can become incarnate for the sake of dying in our place, why couldn’t God the Father? And if He could, then why didn’t He? Was He unwilling? Was He selfish? More to the point, how can I trust Him in my life if He calls me His son, yet treated His Only Begotten in that way?

Intellectually, I knew that God is incapable of that kind of—there’s no other word for it—betrayal. But I lacked the key that would cause it all to make sense. I kept this question on a spiritual back burner of sorts, waiting until God brought clarity to the issue. When He did, it completely changed the way I think about Him.

Here’s some background for the thinking that led to this mystery: I had been taught that God’s purpose for mankind was to bring Himself glory. I was told that in anyone else, this would be disingenuous and self-seeking, but because God is truly worthy, there is no moral dilemma when we say this about Him. His worthiness makes it okay for Him to make all things about Himself.

I know. It doesn’t sound right to you and it never did to me either. Maybe it technically makes sense, but it doesn’t sound right. But that’s what I was taught, and by some very brilliant minds in Bible college. Here’s the problem with that theory and where it began to unravel for me:

God is love (1 John 4:16), and love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5). If God is love then His very being is defined by unselfishness. He cannot seek His own benefit or He betrays the nature of His very existence!

Moreover, Ezekiel 28:12-17 says, “‘Thus says the Lord GOD… “You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God…Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor”‘” (Ezekiel 28:11-17). God is addressing Lucifer in this passage, lamenting over him, actually. What stood out to me here is the very last thing He says: “You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.” In other words, when Lucifer’s wisdom sought the benefit of others, it was pure, but when he turned his wisdom to seek his own benefit, it became corrupted. It may sound reasonable at first to say, “God can do things that look selfish to our finite human minds and it’s okay because He’s worthy,” but then I find that this kind of self-seeking is Satan’s very nature. I cannot possibly say that God can act like Satan and it’s okay because He’s worthy and Satan’s not.

This much helped reassure my confidence that God is not selfish or malevolent, but it didn’t help me understand why a good father, the best Father, would send His Son to die instead of going Himself. That answer came from Philippians 2:5-11, which says:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

These verses wrap the whole thing together, showing the perfect nature of God in the humility, sacrifice, and love of Jesus Christ. Yet because of His humility, God the Father exalted Him so that Jesus is exalted above everyone else. Jesus didn’t exalt Himself. His Father exalted Him, and there—right there—is where God gave me my answer.

God the Father knew that whoever went to save the Earth would also receive the greatest name and become the most exalted over everyone else. God the Father knew He could do that horrible task, and that He could receive the exaltation that would come with it. But that would have been self-seeking, so that’s not what He did. Instead, He set aside His rights to be the most highly exalted for the sake of letting His Son surpass Him. He asked His Son, Jesus, to suffer and die for us, not to spare Himself the pain, but so that His Son would be more highly exalted than He was.

That is the nature of a father, which is why this is the way God the Father is glorified. Look at the last line of the passage; God the Father is glorified when all creation is worshiping the Son. God the Father was nowhere to be seen through all those verses until the very end! He is far from center stage, yet while the spotlight is on the Son, the Father is glorified.

I finally had the answer to the mystery. This answer proved to me, once and for all, I also had a Father I could trust.

Transitioning Well

FAQ’s are pretty normal these days. What’s interesting in this is that you can sometimes figure out what God is doing in a group of people by paying attention to their FAQ’s. Their (or our) questions will change from season to season, but that’s because God is doing new things in our lives that cause us to ask new questions.

Recently, I have heard a lot of people talking about transition. In fact, I think I’ve had three conversations in the past month or less that have all revolved around this topic and have ended in the same question: How do you transition well?

Well, fortunately (or unfortunately, I’m not sure), I might be somewhat of an expert on transitions. I graduated college seven years ago, got married six years ago, have had four children, moved six times, have had two internships and six different jobs, started two businesses, closed a business, helped start two non-profit organizations and plant a church, and in the midst of all that, have experienced the most radical changes in my belief system and rapid learning curve of any period in my life (whew!).

What has kept me sane and somehow productive in all that? It’s that God, in His mercy, taught me something very important near the beginning of these transitions that has become a foundational value for me, especially during times of transition. This value comes from Psalm 37:3-4, which says, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Many people quote the second verse here, as I have myself, without understanding the context it comes from. It’s true that God intends to give us the desires of our heart when we delight in Him, and this is what that looks like in many of our lives: We seek the Lord and internally commit our lives to Him. Then, we ask for things we desire, whether a spouse, job, career, children, or any other thing that’s dear to our hearts. He sees our heart to follow Him, so He begins to lead us. Following His lead means that we enter a season of transition—we are going from one thing into another.

Here’s the next logical step that most of us take: We leave our current place and find someplace new that makes more sense to us according to how we believe God is leading us. This transition now has made us cut relationships, or at least put unintentional strain on them, which means starting over with new ones. It has meant some degree of uprooting and a need to put down roots in a new place. And, invariably, this new place is one of hope, because we are certain that we are closer to the desires of our heart. Sometimes this may be the case, but I think that most of the time, if we’ve done this, we’ve actually missed an important key.

The key is found in the context, where we find that David tells us to trust God, do good, dwell in the land, and befriend faithfulness. Looking even broader at verses 1-9, we find other instructions like, “Commit,” “Be still,” “Wait patiently,” and “Wait for the Lord.” We see that David is talking about when circumstances are evil, when we are surrounded by things or people we don’t like (or who don’t like us), when we would like to do nothing more than ditch and run, that this is the answer: Be faithful. Stay put. Let your roots grow deeper. Fix your trust in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Delight yourself in Him and He will give you the desires of your heart.

So, really, the question of how to transition well has an oxymoronic answer. To transition well you almost always stay put. But don’t miss the point—you are cultivating faithfulness. Those relationships you have might be shallow now, but befriend faithfulness and watch them grow. And remember that you’re not just standing pat on your circumstances; while you wait for the Lord, you are doing good.

Doing good cannot be done in a vacuum; you have to interact with people to do good. Doing good will win you favor in your relationships and lead you to embrace the character you will need once God gives you the desires of your heart.

Are you in a time of transition right now? Welcome to the club. What that means for most of us is that we need to befriend faithfulness and intentionally do good to one another, all the while trusting God, delighting in Him, and waiting patiently for Him to give us the desires of our hearts.

Remembering Goodness

The value of something is in what it costs you to get it, but the trick is to guard your heart so that you do not despise what you have purchased for the sacrifice it cost.

I once read a story* of a boy who was drawn into a jewelry store by curiosity. Once inside, he perused the engagement rings, marveling at their beauty. One ring above all others caught his eye, for when he saw it, it was as though he saw in a vision the image of his future wife.

Immediately, he spoke with the doubtful owner to arrange layaway payments until the ring was paid for in full. The owner hesitantly agreed—but only with the understanding that one missed payment would forfeit all previous payments and break the deal.

This boy then tirelessly worked, sometimes taking more than one job, forsaking time with friends, all for the sake of this ring and what it meant to him. No matter how weary he became, the vision of his future wife carried him on.

Years later, the day came when the boy made his last payment, and the owner threw him a party to celebrate the accomplishment. Not long after, he met the woman he had seen in that vision so many times throughout those years. At the right time, he gave her this precious ring—bought with  money, yes, but also with patience, tears, and sacrifice.

He could have become discouraged during the long years of making payments, even growing to despise the ring for what it cost him, but he didn’t.

God teaches us this lesson through Israel in the wilderness, in that He commanded that a jar of manna be kept in the Ark of the Covenant. The manna was a testimony of God’s provision and faithfulness, even though the testimony was bought with toilsome monotony.

The point is that Israel could look at the manna and have two responses—they could either be repulsed by the memory of the wilderness and the difficulty of those years, or they could remember it as the testimony it truly was.

What are you facing right now? Is there a journey on which God has been taking you? What is the dream God has placed in your heart and what have you sacrificed to accomplish it?

God wants to help you fulfill your dreams and lead you into your Promised Land. And if we will choose to guard our hearts, then the testimonies of His faithfulness will deeply knit our hearts to His and our memories will be of His goodness, rather than of the difficulties of life.

*story adapted from Purity: The New Moral Revolution by Kris Vallotton.

 

My Hope

Recently I was asked, “Twenty years from now, what do you hope you’ll think about your life now?”

I thought for a moment and answered, “Hopefully, twenty years from now I will see that I was faithful with the my seeds. Because I know that what I have now is a little, but that when I’ve been faithful with it, God will make it become much.”

As I thought about my answer in the days following this exchange, I realized that the biggest reason I gave this as my answer is because of how I think about eternity. I know that while my place in heaven is based on the grace of Jesus, my reward in heaven is based on my faithfulness on earth. For that reason, I am highly motivated to be a wise steward of all my little things on earth that they might become much, so that one day I will hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

But I realized that this also led to a fear about heaven because eventually in leaving earth I will leave things undone. This feels like a measure of unfaithfulness for which I would be unable to account before God, and my reward might suffer simply because I had died with things unfinished.

The first alternative to this is to try to pace yourself as you see the end coming (assuming you do see it coming), so that you can leave earth with no loose ends. The problem here is that you might end up accomplishing less because you’re sort of coasting to the finish line and be counted as less faithful because of it.

Finally, I realized the solution, and it’s as simple as fatherhood. If I do my job as a father, then my work will be passed on to others who will carry on after I’m gone, tying up my loose ends for me without me needing to coast to the end.

While this is a wonderful solution to my fears about the everlasting implications of my earthly faithfulness, there’s something deeper that I see here, and that’s that the real measure of my faithfulness is not in my ability to accomplish much, but in my ability to father well.

I think maybe this is part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” The servant wasn’t rewarded just because he was faithful, but also because he was good.

My hope, twenty years from now and in eternity, is that I will have been faithful with my first charge – my family – and that beyond that, I will have grown much from what God has entrusted to me, so that through me He may entrust it to my children for them to continue in a legacy of being both faithful and good.