Sunday, June 19, 2011

Who's Your Daddy?

It is quite unsettling that we have come to a time in our society where over half of the children are being raised without their natural father in the home. In the particular area of Washington, DC where I reside, a startling 8 out of 10 children do not have their father in their life. Regardless of the reason, many children are struggling with God’s revelation of Himself as our Heavenly Father because of the strained or non-existent relationship with their earthly daddy.

I remember one of my seminary professors lecturing on the appropriateness of using gender-neutral language to reference God. Her rationale rested on the high rate of absentee fathers and negative role models in some communities. She looked at the angry little black woman on the third row for what she thought was a certain confirmation of her point. And I told her it didn’t bother me because I have a good daddy.   

The following is a passage is from the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well (who the writer did not see fit to name).
"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."  Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:19-23)

She was from a people called the Samaritans who had general knowledge of Israelite religious practices, but maintained their own social and religious systems.  The woman wanted to know who had it right. She asked Jesus whether the religious practices of her fathers, the Jewish fathers, or even somebody else’s fathers were more acceptable to God.

Jesus revealed that the geographic location of worship and social constructs around them are inconsequential. Genuine worship of God emanates from the spirit of whosoever recognizes and responds to God’s gift of redemption. In the same way, our society gets hung up handing down religious traditions more than spiritual legacies.

Jesus asserts here and throughout this gospel that it is the relationship between each person’s spirit and the Spirit of God that matters. You must be renewed from above, not from the pew. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman is significant because her relationship with Christ and not her birthright established her status in the eyes of God.

Fathers fill an important role in families. That is why God revealed Godself using the metaphorical imagery of father in scripture. It’s not that God has a set of male genitalia.  But that God relates to humanity the way a man should relate to his children.  Sigmund Freud said “at bottom, God is nothing more than an exalted father.”  Earthly fathers are challenged with the duty of modeling the characteristics of our heavenly father and eventually leading their children to faith.  Therefore, fatherhood is an extension of a man’s discipleship.

The most traditional role of father that God appropriates are first as protector. That’s why the psalmist calls God his refuge and his fortress a deliver and shield. A very present help in a time of trouble (Psalm 46:1).  The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear. The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?  (Psalm 27:4-5).

The world deals with you differently when you’ve got a daddy.  When I was growing up, boys in my neighborhood wouldn’t even date me. They envisioned my daddy standing by the door with a shotgun.  While he was more than likely nodding off on the sofa. But it doesn’t matter, It’s the perception. When I was attending graduate school at a fancy university, the children of the rich and famous were known for selling wolf tickets. If they got a C on a paper, they would storm into the professor’s office saying “Do you know who my daddy is?” If they got pulled over for speeding, they would likewise say “Do you know who my father is? And trust me, it worked!

Secondly, God has absolute authority. God has established order in creation. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. That’s why God’s children do not walk in the counsel of the wicked nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of mockers. But their delight is in the law of the Lord and in God’s law they meditate day and night. They will be like a tree planted firmly by streams of water which yield its fruit in due season and its leaf does not wither. And whatever they do, they prosper (Psalm 1:1-3).

Right after my grandmother died, my father came to me and said “I need you to do such-and-such”. I said “I hear you, but I was planning on doing thus-and-so.” He looked at me again and said:  “I need you to do such-and-such”.  And I looked at him again and said “that’s not really convenient for me because I had planned to do thus-and-so.”  He looked at me a third time and said “I need you to do such-and-such.”  And then I got it! Even though I’m grown, I did such-and-such. That’s the same way we bargain with God. However, God’s plans for us are not negotiable.

We love to speak of God as provider. That’s why Charles Wesley wrote:
Father I stretch my hand to Thee
No other help I know
If thou withdraw thy self from me
Oh wither shall I go.

Psalm 27:35 tells us, I have been young and now I’m old, but I have never seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread. When you are a child of God, you have a blank check drawn on heaven. Nothing that you need to fulfill God’s purpose for you will be denied.

As disciplinarian, God chastises those whom God loves. Discipline is not simply about punishment. Discipline comes from the Greek root ascesis from which we get the word “ascetic”.  It implies training and was used frequently to describe the rigorous training required for preparing for the Olympics. The net effects of living the ascetic life are physical purity, mental focus, and preparedness.  Knowing God as Father renders the believer impervious to intimidation because they are prepared to withstand any trial and have far more fear of God and the consequences of disobeying Him.

Discipline is also about commanding respect. As Father, God does not owe us answers. Recall the story of Job demanding explanations for why he was suffering so much loss.  The Lord replied to Job out of the whirlwind for four long chapters about God being sovereign and having done all these wonderful things and Job being a mere mortal who had no idea. Yet, God did not in those four long chapters give Job a clue as to the cosmological nature of his trial.

That account reminds me so much of my dad because he can lecture you for hours and have no idea what his point is. But in the end, like, Job, you simply respect the position.    That’s an important point because we as children can be disrespectful to our fathers, but we must maintain that respect because fathers slip up just like everybody slips up. By your respecting him, and his role in your family, you remind him that he has to live up to that.

Most importantly, God is our trust. God can do anything, but fail. Sometimes it feels like God has made a mistake or forgotten about us when things don’t  go our way. God never sleeps nor slumbers. Rest assured that God is working things out for good, although the details may be concealed from you at this time.

God is all these things to us, but our children do not recognize it despite a church on every other corner.  Jesus said:
Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:43-44).
I John 3:10 describes Satan’s children as those who do not do what is right as well as those who do not love their brothers and sisters. We have got to free our communities from the lie that they are not children of the King.

You give control over yourself to whose voice you incline your ear. If you follow the natural order of this perverse world, then you are the offspring of the devil who is the ruler of this world. If you transcend, by faith, consistently taking hard rights over easy wrongs, then you demonstrate by your fruit that you have been born again by the spirit of God. 

There is no separating the disposition of the heart from the act of recognizing God for who and what God is .  Each miraculous change in our behavior makes God that much real to us and hence worthy of praise. Anything short of that is mere hypocrisy. The good news is that God is accepting children for adoption daily. And desires genuine praise from them. Choose your daddy today!