The love of the Father......

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Father’s Day is here again bringing an opportunity to celebrate, honour and give thanks for the gift of fatherhood. Some may celebrate over a family meal, some may choose cards with dodgy dad jokes inside, and some dads will get new socks (because that seems to be what dads want apparently). Honouring fathers in our lives, dads who we love and who love us. Fathers who were present, who made time for us, who taught us stuff, who watched over us, protected us and shaped us. It is such a blessing to celebrate and honour those dads who love, nurture and sacrifice for their kids!

That’s not the universal story though. For many their experience of fathers is very different and I have been increasingly aware recently of many who have extremely difficult relationships with fathers. I have to admit that I struggle sometimes when I see general statements made on the radio, for instance, wishing everyone a Happy Father’s Day as I’m so conscious that this won’t be the case for everyone. For many Father’s Day brings pain and stirs up trauma from the past. For some there is loss revisited as an empty chair sits at the table. For some it is not a day for celebration but mourning. For some it brings feelings of rejection flooding back from a father who left with no explanation. For some a father who was abusive. For some a dad who was absent through alcoholism, others absent through workaholism. Some have fathers whose standards you were never able to meet. Some who were unable to earn their father’s love or acceptance. The weight of any of these circumstances can be unbearable. Today is Father’s Day for those people too.............just with a very different perspective. 

I admit that as I come to this I’m blessed in having a dad who has loved us, provided for us, sacrificed for us, worked hard, taught us about integrity, and demonstrated a humble following of Jesus which even though I didn’t want much to do with Jesus for 20 years or so, I always admired his faith and devotion to Jesus. No father is perfect though and as a father myself now I’m constantly amazed at the ingenious ways in which our three kids seem to be able to highlight my imperfections. Getting them all out to school in the morning shines more light on the dark crevices of my heart than I would like and instigates more apologies by me to the kids than I can count. For me sometimes fatherhood has as much to do with knowing when I need to say sorry as about the things I get right. And I don’t know about you, but kids will put us adults to shame with how they model forgiveness. It tends to be instant, unconditional and full of grace. Maybe I just give them plenty of opportunity to practice!

As I said fathers are not perfect! My own imperfect attempts at fatherhood often have me leaning into the love and grace of God my Father and giving thanks that He is not like me. The Bible speaks to us of the saving work of Jesus but it also speaks to us about the adoptive love of a Father. When we repent and trust in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we not only receive forgiveness for our sin and salvation but we at the same time are adopted into a family! Galatians 4 v4-5 says “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons”. We become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus! That is one of the great wonders of the gospel! That because we are sons and daughters “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son”(Galatians v6-7) And I truly believe that understanding this relationship will transform our faith and our lives! But to understand it we first need to know what kind of Father God is.

Scripture is littered with references to God the Father and how He loves His children. For me, however, one of the most compelling images of the Father heart of God comes in Luke 15 in the story most commonly called ‘the Prodigal son’. Tim Keller places the emphasis on a different character in this narrative though in his book ‘The Prodigal God’. He beautifully shifts the focus from the ‘wayward’ son to the prodigal father explaining that the word prodigal doesn’t mean ‘wayward’ as we have come to understand it, but as one definition puts it “recklessly spendthrift”. To spend until you have nothing left! That word ‘redeem’ in Galatians 4 means to obtain or set free by paying a price and used in this context we start to see that to save us and redeem us God spent until He had nothing left. It cost him his Son Jesus! All He had! That’s the extent of His love for us! God is truly Prodigal!

Both sons in the story are lost in very different ways but loved by the Father. The youngest son tends to take the focus of the story though. He demands his inheritance right now, gets as far away as possible, blows it all, becomes utterly destitute, starving, filthy, desperate and far from home. As he hits rock bottom and realises the how he has wronged his father and figures there is no hope for relationship anymore but maybe he can return as a servant, he practices his speech the whole way back but the plan doesn’t quite work out because the love of his Father intercepts him. Luke 15 v20 says “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion and ran and embraced him and kissed him”.  These are some of my favourite words because I love this picture of the Father running to the son, garment hitched up, no thought of dignity or how it looked, legs and arms pumping with a face of sheer joy as he eats up the ground to greet his son who was lost but now is found. This truth that by the time our hearts have been moved to repentance we find God the Father already running headlong towards us!

I love this imagery. I can picture occasions when my kids have done something which they shouldn’t have and I have caught that look on their faces that told me that they knew they had done wrong. On occasions where I have opened my arms and beckoned them to me, they have then buried their head in my chest and sob their apology freely and without prompting, where a harsher approach from me would have lead to argument and digging in of heels. It is the kindness of the God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2 v4) and so it is with the younger son. He is at the end of himself and remembers his Father and is immediately greeted by His loving embrace. A really powerful image from the sporting world that always gets me is Derek Redmond in a 400m race at 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona wherein he tore his hamstring half way round the track. Those who haven’t seen it check it out on this link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYQ2IyMuPes) but Redmond starts to hobble his way out of determination to complete the race even though the rest of the competitors have long finished. Struggling in agony, emotionally crushed and all alone on the track Redmond’s father bursts into shot ignoring those trying to stop him and discourage him and he grabs his boy as if to say “I’m getting you home son” and they complete the race. This love and devotion of the father is an iconic image in sporting history and this passage is a hugely visual representation of the Father’s love. The son barely able to get a few repentant words out of his apology as he is buried in the bear hug of his Dad and a massive party immediately being organised to welcome him home. The Father declares “For this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost but now is found”. This is the extravagant love of God the Father! He is a Father of grace. He is a Father of compassion. He doesn’t make the son stew any longer than necessary.

God the Father won’t have us earn our way back when we have run from Him. He will not accept us as a servant to earn our keep or make it up to Him. He welcomes you as His child and He delights in you! If you have been running from God but turn to Him once more, you will receive His embrace! Whether you stink of pigs or worse, no matter how filthy, how broken, how destitute, how hopeless, God welcomes the repentant child into his arms! God isn’t a vengeful Father who is seeking to punish and humiliate but to forgive and restore. He is not ashamed by us! How often as fathers have we withheld or delayed forgiveness or made our kids stew? How often have we experienced that from our fathers? Where we apologise but have to grovel, have to earn our way back into their affections? Where we aren’t sure where we stand with them? This is not our Heavenly Father. He is a good father.

I just love this story! It bowls me over every time I read it! God is a Father who is transcendent over all experiences or definitions that we might try to place on Him. He is not like us! He is Creator, He is Holy, He is Judge, He is King, He is all powerful, He is Just, He is Perfect. He is all these things yet He is our Father who adopts us into his family through our faith in Jesus! It’s so vital that we grasp and understand our relationship with God through this lens. J I Packer said “To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved by God the Father is greater”. How true is that?! The Judge has not only paid our sentence but taken us in as His own child! That’s incredible.

This day we call ‘Fathers Day’ brings mixed emotions for many. If you can celebrate and honour fathers who are truly a blessing in your life please do so with great gratitude and joy! If you are haunted by loss or grief, weighed down by regret or shame, broken by abusive fathers, reminded of rejection, buried under expectations you couldn’t meet then you are on my heart today and I pray for healing, restoration, and comfort for you. Maybe you are a father who is buried under the shame of being so imperfect and eaten up by guilt for damage you may have been responsible for. Those pains can not be fixed by any empty words and should never be minimised, but I believe there is One who can heal you and who is the giver of grace for you. There is a perfect Father who will not harm you, will not abandon you, is not ashamed of you. He will discipline us and correct us in love. He knows what we need. He will restore us! He is a good Father. Whatever our experience of earthly fathers I pray that this ‘Father’s Day’ you can know the Father who through Jesus spent all that He had to pay your ransom, who adopts you, who runs toward you with arms wide open, who forgives you, who calls you not a slave or a servant but loves you as a son or daughter! Abba Father! 

 

Ally
 

Ministry Minded...

Ministry Minded

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. 

Ephesians 4: 11-12

How do you and I view ministry? We all bring our own ideas of what we believe ‘ministry’ to be to the table. Our opinions on what ministry should look like is influenced by many areas, such as our background, our church denomination or lack thereof, and our personal experience. While these elements do shape our view of ministry, there is one that should take a preeminent position, and that is what scripture teaches on ministry.

Firstly, it is really important to clear up what the word ‘ministry’ actually means. The word literally means service. So in the context of Ephesians 4, ministry is any service - for God - that builds up the church. 

How we can often view ministry

Some tend to think that the work of ministry is to be carried out solely by the ranks of the clergy, ministers, pastors and the like. Although in Scripture it is clear that there is a special call on those who serve as elders in the church - to devote themselves to “prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4), to “be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1: 9) and “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5 : 2) - the work of ministry is by no means limited to this. 

Service that builds up the church goes far beyond the role of the elder, and also in my opinion, far beyond the boundaries of the gathered church. 

If we hold the view that those ‘called into the ministry’ in the church are the only ones really to be involved in ministry, then we have limited it to something that only happens when the church meets. This is not the case! 

Or if we don’t view ministry as just the ‘job for the minister,’ perhaps we picture it as church members serving throughout their church. While it is good for this to be case, people using their gifts to serve God and the body, and having the workload spread throughout the congregation - we still have some difficulties with this definition of ministry. 

If we think that ministry only happens when the corporate church is gathered, or in various church organisations, then what about the devoted followers of Jesus who simply don’t see a place for themselves to serve in the church? When we hold the view that ministry only occurs in the church, or as an extension of the church, then the temptation is that we start as many church programs as we can, so that everyone has an area that they can ‘minister’ in.  

What about those who faithfully share the gospel with the people in their workplace? What about the person who witnesses about Jesus on the building site, and shares his life with those he works with? What about the church member who gives their time to help out with the local sports team, sharing the good news of Christ with those they encounter? Are they not ministering? Of course they are! 

The problem those in a growing church can face is that so many are needed to serve, and so much is needed to be done, that they often squeeze so much of their time into the church’s ministries, that they are simply unable to engage with ministry outside the church. We are to spend time with people who are not followers of Christ, help those who need help, and shepherd our families. Sadly, the first place that we are called to minister in - our homes - is often the first place we neglect. So what can we do?

Simplify and encourage  

1. Simplify

How can we reform a view of ministry that is unhealthy and unbiblical? It is the job of the elders “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” One of the ways I believe that we can do this is by simplifying the way in which we ‘do church.’ As I have mentioned, one of the pitfalls that a church can face is feeling the temptation to begin new programs. We need to resist this urge to ‘do more,’ as more programs simply means that more people are spending more time in church, rather than being salt and light where God has placed them, among the people that He has put around them. 

Perhaps this calls for an evaluation of current programs in the church. If we find that they are not fulfilling the function of “building up the body of Christ” then they may need to be stopped or re-thought. Although this may be a painful process, it is essential if we are to be faithful to what God has called us to, namely, making disciples of Jesus (Matt 28:19). Often, church ministries and programs can become ‘golden calfs’ that we cling onto on and treat as if they have intrinsic value in and of themselves, even though they are not fulfilling their original purpose. 

2. Encourage  

We must encourage one another to see all of life as ministry. This was very much the thought of both Martin Luther and John Calvin. Calvin especially saw that our vocation in life, whatever that may be, was assigned by a sovereign God. He commented,

“Every individual's line of life, therefore, is, as it were, a post assigned him by the Lord, that he may not wander about in uncertainty all his days."

We should therefore encourage our brothers and sisters that wherever we find ourselves - be that the office, the building site or the hospital ward; teaching, studying or raising children at home - that is exactly where God has placed us, that is where he would have us ‘minister.’ 

The danger in elevating ministry within the church is that we devalue ministry outside the church. Each is as valuable as the other, and we should be strive to be content in where God has set us.

As we consider what ministry truly is, it is good to ask ourselves some hard questions. What am I called to? Am I content in that calling? I am praying that through seeking God in prayer and through the scriptures, we all find the answers to those questions. 

Blessings,

John


THEOLOGY MATTERS

WHY GOOD THEOLOGY MATTERS!

Let me begin by saying this. Everyone is a theologian! You may not think it or you may not realise it, but it is true. You are a theologian! Theology in its purest form is the study of God, and everyone - even the atheist - has thoughts about God! Indeed, even Satan is a theologian. In fact I would go as far as to say that Satan may have a lot more sound theology than a fair few who would call themselves Christians. So let’s look at three ways in which good theology helps us.

 GOOD THEOLOGY LEADS TO A GREATER LOVE FOR GOD!

A. W. Tozer said that "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." If this is true then it is very important that we think rightly about God. That's why a study of good theology is essential for the Christian life and for growth in Christ. I have found this quote from Jen Wilkin particularly helpful when it comes to how we think about God and the pursuit biblical knowledge. "The heart cannot love what the mind does not know" (Women of the Word). If our hearts are to be engaged in love for our God, then we must pursue a right knowledge of Him. I have known my wife Julie now for some 24 years. That's a long time and if I were to think about the reasons why I love her I would have to say that my love has grown for her the more I have got to know her. This simply makes sense! Our relationship with God is no different; the more we pursue a knowledge of Him and the better we get to know Him, the more our love will grow for Him.

GOOD THEOLOGY IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT TRANSFORMS!

In Romans 12:2 we hear the apostle Paul urge his readers to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This renewing of the mind comes on two levels. It comes when we submit ourselves to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, and it comes through a study of God, through what has been revealed about Him in His Word! We cannot expect to be changed into the image of Christ through simply standing by and letting it happen to us! We will not wake up ten years from now - not having studied God's word and not having submitted ourselves to His transforming power - and expect to be more like Christ! To be transformed we must submit ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit and we must think rightly about God, which means having good theology!

 GOOD THEOLOGY PROTECTS US FROM WRONG THINKING ABOUT GOD!

Good theology will help us on a very practical level. It will help us to love our spouses well, it will help us to raise our children well and it will also help us to navigate a world of bad theology that exists. Let me give some examples of what I would call bad theology! In Idaho, April 2016, a girl by the name of Mariah Walton is on a respirator, her lungs wrecked by her illness. She has pulmonary hypertension, which means that when she is not bedridden, she must carry an oxygen tank around with her. This could have been prevented when she was a baby if her parents had allowed her to receive treatment, but they didn’t! Others that I have read of have died because their parents believed that God would heal and they refused medical treatment! This is great example of bad theology!

God in his graciousness has provided for us doctors and nurses as part of His common grace. The fact that God sometimes heals does not mean that He always will. Regardless, there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that medicine (or science in general) is opposed to divine healing. Perhaps the common grace of medicine is the very means by which God exercises the miraculous grace of healing.

Or what of the super star evangelist who flies his private jet to an African nation, holding events that see thousands attend, with the hope that God will look favourably on them. They arrive to be told by that said evangelist that God certainly will look favourably on them if they donate considerably to his ministry! They leave having given almost everything they had, but to no avail! The reason is that this is not how God works, but they have been led astray by false teachers.

Possibly even more subtle and more damaging to us in the West is the promise of health, wealth and prosperity if we would just have more faith, believe more, give more. Someone really should have told the apostle Paul that all he needed was to have more faith to avoid torture and poverty!! Or it may have been helpful if some prosperity preacher had mentioned to Jesus that all this beating, scoffing, rejection and dying on a cross was uncalled for and that he could have "his best life now" if he had only had more faith! Teaching that all we need is more faith to have a peaceful, prosperous and healthy life is simply biblically untrue! The point is this, a right thinking about God and a true study of His word will help us navigate some of the pitfalls that are out there and help us avoid a lot of false teaching that can so easily sound plausible!

 So to finish, let me ask a question. What are you doing to grow in your theological understanding? It is my hope that we will be kicking off a very simple theology class in the New Year that will be accessible for everyone. Get on board! Also there is a list of books below that I would recommend to get you started on your way!

Recommended resources-

 Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (for shorter introductions, you might first consider his Bible Doctrine or Christian Beliefs)

Kings Cross by Tim Keller

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sprout

None like Him by Jen Wilkin