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.

Living in Love

How would you like to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, at all times that you are loved? How would you like to really believe that? What would it be like if you could constantly live in the confidence that you are loved?

What if, even more than that, you could continually be filled with love? What if it was possible for every interaction that you ever have to be motivated and empowered by love?

If you’re like me, you want this. In fact, I believe that this is the core of every human longing and desire. We want to love and to be loved. No, we need to love and to be loved. Unfortunately, most of us don’t really believe we are loved, even when we know it’s true.

John, the disciple known as the one Jesus loved, helps us with this, saying, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us…We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:15-19)

Starting from the beginning, we have a clear promise: If you confess Jesus as the Son of God, God abides in you. Now, my family abides in our home, but my three-year-old son is still learning this. We will be out and about for whatever reason and he’ll ask, “Where are we going?” Eventually the answer is, “We’re going home.”

“I don’t want to go home,” he says.

“We have to go home,” we say; “It’s where we live.” That’s the point. We abide where we live. We never truly leave that place. We always come back to where we abide. If you have confessed Jesus, God abides in you; you are His home. What’s more, He is your home. You live inside of Him.

The implications of this are powerful because of what John says next. “So we have come to know and believe the love God has for us” (4:16).  See that he said know and believe. See also that he said, “So.” In other words, this is how we come to both know and believe God’s love for us—God lives in us and we live in God, not because we did anything to earn it or win His favor, but simply because we made a confession. That single confession has permanently changed our address. We now live in God.

John further helps us understand this amazing transformation, saying, “God is love. And whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (4:16). Listen, God is love, and you abide in Him by confessing Jesus as the Son of God. So when you begin to abide in God, the reality of that statement is that you are beginning to abide in love and love begins to abide in you.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Okay, now let’s meditate on it more: You live inside of love. You are surrounded by it. You can’t leave it and it can’t leave you. Everyone who looks at you has to look through love to see you. Everyone you see, you see them through love. Every word you hear or speak has to pass through love before it is received. Every thought you think is birthed in the presence of love. And all this reality came simply because you confessed Jesus.

Finally, “By this is love perfected with us” (4:17)

Love: Perfected. With. Us.

Did you ever think that you could be included in such a small phrase with perfected love? Yet it’s that simple. Drink deeply the reality that you live in God and God lives in you, which is the same thing as saying that you live in love and love lives in you. It doesn’t matter how little this feels real, because it’s the guaranteed reality of your life as soon as you confess Jesus as the Son of God.

Then, and only then, do we love. “We love because He first loved us” (4:19). We do not love because it’s right, or because of obligation, or because it’s moral, or nice, or because rules and laws told us so. We love because we are loved. Period. The only genuine love we can give is overflow love.

You are in love and love is in you. May you enjoy life today and every day in this reality until you both know and believe it, until then love is perfected with you. It’s completely possible, and it starts by just believing it.

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.

Reactionary Theology

They say you can always learn from history, and recently, I learned something new.

In the process of studying for a class on Church history, it’s interesting to see how many times movements have been shaped as people react to one another. In the vacuum of fathers in the faith who can say, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,”  it left theological orphans to establish themselves according to whatever made the most sense to them.

And oftentimes, what made the most sense to people was an overreaction (or underreaction) to something someone else was doing.

For example, not meaning to step on any toes here, but in reaction to the Roman Catholic Church’s overemphasis on works, as seen through  a series of requirements by which a believer could obtain grace, John Calvin formulated the various doctrines of predestination. The pendulum swung from many works that merited grace to grace belonging only in the hand of a sovereign God.

In reality, scripture requires both of these to exist in tension. Our faith moves the grace of Christ into our lives, yet our faith also is proved through genuine works.

That example is interesting to me, but it doesn’t move me. What grabs at my heart are several examples from the 1800s, during which time several revivals flourished. The first Great Awakening was past and a new Great Awakening had come, leading to famous names of revival like Andrew Murray, Otto Stockmayer, D.L. Moody, John Alexander Dowie, and many others.

What truly hit home is the testimony of D.L. Moody and R.A. Torrey, two of the founders of what is now Moody Church and Moody Bible Institute, my beloved Alma Mater. These two men both experienced and practiced the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and in particular believed for miraculous healing, in their personal ministry. Torry even preached on the subject in his earlier years, or at least he did until something happened.

That something was John Alexander Dowie, who was flamboyant in his ministry style. He created some measure of controversy in Chicago and, in order to avoid the controversy, Moody and Torrey distanced themselves from Dowie by neglecting to preach about God’s power to heal.*

Now, the point of my writing here is not to provide commentary on either side of this theological debate, but rather make us question how we came up with our theology. If Dowie was unscriptural in his teachings or practice, that is one thing. However, it is equally erroneous to react the other direction and leave out important biblical truth simply because someone else is making it controversial.

In other words, if Moody and Torrey believed and practiced healing by the power of God in their personal ministry, then they should have preached it from the pulpit and lectern without regard to the controversy Dowie created. Or, if healing ministry is unscriptural, then they shouldn’t have believed or practiced it personally.

The point is that what we believe about God should be established by scripture alone and not in reaction to another person (or in reaction to society’s general opinion about a person).

God reveals Himself through people, yet people are still fallible. That’s why scripture is our constant. If a person errs, don’t overreact, but rather let the magnet of scripture pull your pendulum back to center, back to the balance where truths must be held in tension and mysteries cannot be explained by reason, but only by the person of God.

Only then will theology become deeper than intellect, for then we will cease to see mere people. Instead, we will see the Spirit of God at work within people and be able to honor them for what He has done in them, receiving the grace He has given them, and become a body united in Christ rather than divided by doctrine.

 

* Biographical details taken from Heritage of Healing, Kevin Dedmon, copyright 2009

My story begins…

I was on my knees, praying at the side of my bed.

At the time, this was not uncommon for me. I would often fall asleep on my knees, waking up sometime in the night with my light still on and my legs fast asleep.

On this particular night, sometime in the latter years of junior high, God changed my heart. I don’t remember what I was praying about or what else was going on in that moment. All I remember is that suddenly I loved a wife whom I did not yet know and children who were not yet born.

Many people have compared our hearts to a home where Jesus comes to live. It was as though He spoke into my heart home and instantly an addition was built for the distinct purpose of housing a family.

Before that moment a baby’s cry aggravated me; after that moment I felt compassion for them. Before that moment children younger than me were an annoyance, but after that moment I enjoyed time with them. Before that moment I looked at girls with the same interest other boys had in them, but after that time any interest I had in girls that went beyond friendship knew only one purpose – to find my wife.

This isn’t to say that I was deluded enough to think I was ready for all of these things at such a young age. Of course I knew I couldn’t be married or have children for many years. However, I was deluded enough to think that I could meet someone in junior or senior high school and stay in a godly relationship with them long enough to marry them someday (not saying this couldn’t happen, but I will counsel my children to not look for a spouse until they are ready to be married).

The point is that my heart was changed in a moment. God did a divine work in me and I was wrecked forever. He created the inner wiring for a family and it began my pursuit to find and help create the people whom I already loved.

My pursuit continued through college, where the Lord told me to begin praying every day that He would give me my wife, to not leave Him alone on the issue until He fulfilled His promise. I did this, praying faithfully for my wife every day for about two years. And then, finally, somewhere around ten years after God changed my heart, I married my wife Amy on December 16, 2006.

We now have three children and are expecting our fourth, who will be born shortly before our fifth anniversary. There are five people living in the addition God built within my heart, and the love He deposited then beats stronger for them now than it did then.

As I reflect on the story of my fatherhood, one thing stands out to me above everything else. It is that God deposited love in my heart, and from that love fatherhood was born. This fatherhood continues to grow, not merely because I have so many children, but because I keep learning more of what fatherhood really means.

Where are you in your journey toward fatherhood – or motherhood, for that matter? Wherever you are, I challenge you to continue to grow, to keep searching, to keep approaching our Heavenly Father and learning from Him until our fatherhood can be described the same way as His –

Heavenly.

What is a father?

What is a father?

Is a father merely someone who has biological or adopted children? Is he someone who provides for children under his roof or pays their way through college? Or is a father someone who teaches us how to skip stones, tie fishing knots, and ride a bike?

The truth is that all of these may describe things a father does, but they do not define what a father is. Fatherhood is defined by two essential elements – Nature and Inheritance.

I will describe inheritance first, so that I can immediately clear up any misunderstanding about what I mean. What I do not mean is that fathers are only good for their money. There is much more to fatherhood than simply amassing a small treasure to bequeath to our children so that they can have an easier life.

What I do mean is that a true father wants his children to go farther than he can, and consequently lives in such a way as to make that happen. This requires fathers to gain something of value to leave as an inheritance – not necessarily finances, though that is a possibility – just something of value to pass on to their children. My father labored to gain an incredible knowledge of the scriptures, and my inheritance from that is a depth of faith in God and knowledge of the Word that continually surpassed my peers as a child. It means that today I am teaching God’s Word instead of merely trying to grasp basic concepts.

The things of value that we gain for our children can be from any area of life – including finances – but the heart of a father is expressed in the intentional growth and passing on of these things so that our children can surpass us. Our ceiling must be their floor.

Inheritance does little good, however, if a father does not pass on his nature. This requires him to invest in his children so that they have his heart and are going the same direction he is. If our children do not go the same direction we are going, then how can they go farther than us? This means that we must train our children regarding what is important to us and work with them to develop the character and responsibility to remain strong on our path.

In the past we have thought ourselves to be successful fathers and parents if our children can graduate college, hold down a good job, have a nice family, pay their mortgage, and save up enough to retire by age 65. We need to realize now that successful fatherhood goes beyond teaching the actions of building a life to teaching the heart we should have in life. It is the difference between only teaching my children how to shoot a gun and also teaching them when and why to shoot it.

The definition of fatherhood is not limited to fatherly actions, finding its ultimate fulfillment in the heart behind those actions. It is not simply to produce offspring, but to impart a nature and release a destiny by endowing provision, protection, and identity.

This is who a father is. This is a father’s heart.