The Father’s Love in Disciplining (Part 7)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) The Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace.

5) The Father loves us by giving good gifts. He enjoys us enjoying him as we enjoy his gifts.

6) The Father’s love is seen in the making and fulfilling of promises to his people.

7) The Father loves us not despite disciplining his children but through disciplining his children. I know this point is a hard sell. Even as Christians who believe God’s Word, we often struggle to comprehend how discipline can actually be a demonstration of God’s goodness. We might even go so far as to acknowledge it’s for our good but can it really be categorized as a proof of God’s love? I think the Bible and our experience both tell us yes.

Maybe you had a parent say something like, “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you,” and as a child you would have been more than happy to trade places. You might have experienced discipline that wasn’t fair or was done more out of punishment and rage than discipline and control. God’s discipline is never done in a fit of rage. His discipline is a calm but firm correction done out of love. He has our best interest in mind. God never rejects or punishes us, but rather, he teaches as he disciplines.

There are a number of verses in the Psalms pointing to the instructive and corrective value in discipline (Ps. 94:12; 119:67, 75). Paul says that through discipline we’re protected from pursuing our destruction (I Cor. 11:32). Several Proverbs pick up on this theme and exhort parents to discipline their children if they love them. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24; cf. 23:13; 29:17).

The NT actually connects discipline to love at least twice to help cement in our mind that God’s discipline when we sin proves he loves us (Heb. 12:3-11; Rev. 3:19). He will do the hard things good parents do who care for their children, exchanging a few hard moments of discipline for a life of walking in righteousness. Let’s consider these verses from Hebrews that connect discipline and love.
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as son? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-11).

The fact that God disciplines us should encourage us just how much he cares for and loves us. Knowing his discipline comes from his goodness and wisdom, we can trust that he chooses the discipline that we most need. Just like children respond to rebuke in different ways and a parent treats each child based upon their unique personality and needs, so our Father knows what discipline we most need and can handle. The depth and breadth of God’s love encompasses loving discipline as well as gifts of grace. God disciplines us because he loves us and we should regard such discipline as the evidence he will never give up on us or leave us to ourselves. He disciplines the one he loves and his discipline proves he loves.

Earthly parents who love their kids discipline them because they know their role as a parent is to teach and instruct them. The children must learn right from wrong and they must learn what will harm versus what will help them. A parent will discipline the child who tries to put a fork in the light socket, walks into the road when they shouldn’t, skips school, or makes destructive choices. No good parent delights in the discipline itself, but they do it knowing it has a good effect.

There’s a beautiful scene in the television show Parenthood that illustrated this for me. There’s a mother and father who adopt a young boy. Early on he doesn’t feel accepted and continues to misbehave. The mother thinks they should keep looking the other way but the father reminds her they’re his parents now. He’s their child so they need to treat him like family, not like a guest or stranger. Since he’s now their boy and they want what’s best for him they make the choice to explain what he’s done wrong and let him know it’s not okay. God treats us not as strangers or guests who he has no relationship with but as a father who loves his children deeply.

Anne Bradstreet: Two Poems on the Death of Her Grandchildren

AnneBradstreet-15_Today I received in the mail one of my favorite things, new books! One was a biography of Anne Bradstreet and the other was her collected works, largely poems. Anne Bradstreet came to New England aboard the famous ship Arbella in 1630. It’s the same boat John Wintrhop was on and delivered his famous sermon A Model of Christian Charity. In it he laid out the vision of them being “a city on a hill” that would model to England what a godly society would look like. Anne Bradstreet was the daughter of wife to Massachusetts governors and Puritans. Her poems reflect many Puritan themes, some expected and some contrary to common–though incorrect–assumptions of Puritans. One example would be the depth of passion and affection she writes to her husband in her poetry. I’ll have to save it for a later post, but despite the made up Puritans from 19th century novels, they were actually strong proponents of passion, intimacy, partnership, and deep affection in a marriage.

Anne was the first published American poet. She wrote with the values and beliefs of England in mind while living in and experiencing the unique challenges and blessings of New England’s wilderness. I look forward to reading her Works and several of her poems will probably land here. One of the first poems I found in my new book was about the death of a grandchild at all too early of an age (1 month and 1 day). Being an uncle to three babies that did not make it out of the womb, and working in a church where many of our families have lost children before they ever imagined, this and another poem she wrote immediately caught my attention. Anne had many difficulties getting pregnant and for years struggled with being childless. Eventually she and her husband would have a number of children, none of which died as children. She did however have more than one of her grandchildren die as a small child. Here are two short poems she wrote after the death of her young grandchildren.

In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Anne Bradstreet, Being Three Years and Seven Months Old
With troubled heart and trembling hand I write,
The heavens have changed to sorrow my delight.
How oft with disappointment have I met,
When I on fading things my hopes have set.
Experience might ‘fore this have made me wise,
To value things according to their price.
Was ever stable joy yet found below?
Or perfect bliss without mixture of woe?
I knew she was but as a withering flower,
That’s here today, perhaps gone in an hour;
Like as a bubble, or the brittle glass,
Or like a shadow turning as it was.
More fool then I to look on that was lent
As if mine own, when thus impermanent.
Farewell dear child, thou ne’er shall come to me,
But yet a while, and I shall go to thee;
Mean time my throbbing heart’s cheered up with this:
Thou with thy Savior art in endless bliss.

On My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet, Being but a Month and One day old
No sooner came, but gone, and fall’n asleep,
Acquaintance short, yet parting caused us weep;
Three flowers, two scarcely blown, the last i’ th’bud,
Cropt by th’ Almighty’s hand; yet is He good.
With dreadful awe before Him let’s be mute,
Such was His will, but why, let’s not dispute,
With humble hearts and mouths put in the dust,
Let’s say He’s merciful as well as just.
He will return and make up all our losses,
And smile again after our bitter crosses
Go pretty babe, go rest with sisters twain;
Among the blest in endless joys remain.

The Father’s Love in Promising (Part 6)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) The Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace.

5) The Father loves us by giving good gifts. He enjoys us enjoying him as we enjoy his gifts.

6) The Father’s love is seen in the making and fulfilling of promises to his people. God the Father makes many great and gracious promises to us as his people and then he signs, seals, and delivers them to us through the work of the Son and the Spirit. God cannot and will not lie to us (Titus 1:2) and so his word to us is always to be trusted. All of us will be disappointed by people in this world who fail us. They might not be true to their word. They might do what they said. They might not deliver on the things they pledge to us. These unfortunate experiences leave a bad taste on our mouth and it can sour our trust in relationships. However, God is not like us in that he is always faithful and true. You cannot remember a time when he has failed you because it hasn’t happened. You cannot think of a promise he made that was later broken because he never does that. Children desire and they need dads who prove their trustworthiness and love by doing what it takes to keep their promises. God the father has always done that and he tells us the proof is evidenced in the cross.

In his exposition of 2 Corinthians, the Puritan Richard Sibbes gives an extended discussion on God’s promises. He begins by asking and answering “what is a promise?” “A promise is nothing but a manifestation of love, an [intention] of bestowing some good, and removing some ill. A manifestation of our mind in that kind is a promise of conferring of a future good, or removing of a future ill; therefore it comes from love in the party promising.” He continues by arguing that promise comes from the inward love and is the word before the acts demonstrating such love.
“Now God, who is love…will not only show his love in time, but because he will have us rest sweetly in his bosom, and settle ourselves on his gracious promises…he gives us rich and precious promises….This is the nature of a promise. It is not only love, and the expression of love in deed, but the expression of it in word, when he intends to solace, comfort, establish, and stay the mind of man until the good promised be performed.” [1]

Jesus is the one who confirms all God’s promises to us and secures them for us. In 2 Corinthians 1:20 Paul says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus Christ].” He has at the front of his mind all of God’s salvific promises in the OT are accomplished and confirmed in Jesus. It extends beyond the OT and we know that all of God’s clearly stated promises are accomplished and kept through Jesus.

The author of Hebrews makes the faithfulness of God the foundation of our perseverance. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). Even in the midst of circumstances that seem bleak and might raise doubts about God’s word holding true, we can know that he is always faithful. The next chapter, Hebrews 11, then lists a number of God’s people who bet their lives on God’s faithfulness. The whole Bible testifies to God’s faithfulness. He does what he promises and he promises great things to those who are his.

God’s love in these precious promises is two-fold. First, he loves us by being true and faithful rather than being unreliable or deceptive. Nothing gives a greater sense of safety and security than a father who can be fully and completely trusted. We are like children who find ourselves clinging in trust to our Father. Second, his love is also seen in the promises themselves. It’s not only that he keeps his promises but it’s also that he holds out to us some amazing things. He promises to be love us as his sons and daughters, to give us his Holy Spirit to live with us, to keep us secure in Christ, to wipe away our sins, and to one day come back and restore all things.

The Bible is stocked full of promises that are strong enough and sweet enough to carry us through each day. One of the best things to do when studying God’s Word is to intentionally pick out the promises of God and to anchor your life on them. They are true and they are good. If we ever doubt God’s promises he calls us to look back to the pledge of his Son (2 Cor. 1:20; Rom. 8:31-39) and the down-payment of His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:14). God loves us by promising us with countless blessings and assurances, and he loves us by always keeping those promises.

Footnotes:
[1] Richard Sibbes, “Exposition of 2nd Corinthians Chapter 1” in Works of Richard Sibbes, 7 volumes (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, reprinted 2001), 3:384. I have updated some of the language using modern spelling.

The Father’s Love in Giving (Part 5)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) The Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace.

5) The Father loves us by giving good gifts. He enjoys us enjoying him as we enjoy his gifts. Every child erupts into joy when a parent gives them a present. That doesn’t change with age, although hopefully our happiness in giving does increase over time. God is the original and unrivaled gift-giver. This exhibits not just his care and provision for us—although that is true—but it expresses his generous and glad heart towards his children. If we go back to the Bible we’ll see how God has revealed himself to us. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17). “Yes, the Lord will give what is good” (Ps. 85:12).

The truth is God hands out who knows how many gifts to his children every day. But, the problem is either we don’t see the gifts or we don’t stop to consider that they’re from God. We start to err when we think we have the things in our life because we earned them (I Cor. 4:7). If that’s the case, then God is unnecessary and there’s no one to thank besides ourselves. Another error occurs when we see God as holding back or not giving us what we want so we grumble against him (Num. 14:2; I Cor. 10:10). However, the win-win happens when we open our eyes to an awareness of the gifts and then we raise our eyes in a response of thanksgiving to the God who gave them. Ann Voskamp connects the two when she writes, “The art of deep seeing makes gratitude possible. And it is the art of gratitude that makes joy possible.”[1]

Paul makes gratitude a prominent theme in his writings. I think the reason, in part, is because when we truly see God’s love in giving gifts to us our hearts feel genuine gratitude. That is consummated as we return thanks to God. “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”[2] Gratitude becomes worship. The Bible uses a number of words to express this: gratitude, thanksgiving, praise, and bless (Col. 3:15; I Thess. 5:18; Rev. 7:12). Each of these words connects our response to God as the giver of all good gifts.

The tightrope we’re walking here is enjoying God in his gifts instead of idolizing his gifts. David Pao explains: “Thanksgiving in Paul is an act of worship. It is not focused primarily on the benefits received or the blessed condition of a person; instead, God is the centre of thanksgiving.”[3] God doesn’t want us to minimize or fail to find pleasure in what he provides because we’re paranoid about committing idolatry. He wants us to delight in his gifts not as competition of our affections but as conduits to them. The gift should always lead to the giver.
“When the gospel of Jesus Christ frees us to see and savor the glory of God above all things, the way is opened for us to experience seamless joy in God and his gifts. We are able to see every gift as a beam from the sun of God’s glory. Every joy in the beam runs up to the fountain of light and ends there. No created thing becomes a rival but only a revelation of God.”[4]

Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater to bring home the reality of God’s goodness. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13). The best examples of earthly fathers in their generosity and love in giving good things to their kids is a tiny picture of God’s greater love communicated to us in his gifts. God has blessed us with innumerable blessings, both physical and spiritual, and the more we see them as gifts the greater opportunity we have to rest in and relish his Fatherly love. In other words, one way to see God’s heart of love for us is to see the gifts that come from his hand to us.

Footnotes:
[1] Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 118.
[2] C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 10.
[3] David Pao, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 28-29.
[4] John Piper, God is the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 141.

The Father’s Love in Comforting (Part 4)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) God the Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.</

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace. It’s a picture I’ve seen one hundred different ways and yet it’s always the same: a small son or daughter running into the outstretched arms of their dad. Whether a child is hurt or afraid there is nothing they so desperately seek than the comfort of a father. Unfortunately, because of the brokenness of our world, there are all too many kids without dads and so their experience is the unmet need of a father’s presence. But, God’s promise is to be a father to the fatherless as we’re made children of God through Christ (Ps. 68:5). Mothers and fathers are equally important despite their differences—and I think both embody different attributes of God—but a father gives a sense of protection, safety, and security in his embrace. If fathers limited in their power and hindered by their shortcomings can provide such things just imagine what the presence of a Father without any weakness, able to be always and everywhere present, boundless in power and the ability to protect, and perfect in love might offer to his children.

God’s love to us is shown in the many ways he’s acted graciously to us and offered mercy, but the uniqueness of comforting-love expresses the fatherliness of God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). It’s a different nuance than comfort, but in Romans 15:5 Paul also calls him the God of encouragement. God the Father comforts and encourages his children in a tender and caring love. He does not turn them away or pile up heavy discouragements on their backs. Do we think of him in such gentle terms?

In the Old Testament, God offers many words of comfort to his often broken-hearted people (Is. 40:1; 66:13). One morsel given to Israel was this: “I, I am he who comforts you” (Is. 51:12). In the midst of Israel’s exile and the hope of deliverance God promises that he will be their comfort. Life offers many moments of tragedy and pain, even more occasions for frustration and disappointment. Although we do our best to appear outwardly strong and having it all-together, even as adults we are frail children ready to crumble at any moment. We feel scared, unsure, hurt, confused, and often alone. There are answers to questions and explanations to life’s hardships in the Bible, but more often than not those don’t give real comfort. But, God himself does comfort us. The discomforts in this world are no match for the comforts of our Father. He wraps his strong but soothing arms around us. His presence can fill the gap where we feel lost or alone. Richard Sibbes encourages humbled Christians—bruised reeds—that “[the Father’s] presence makes any condition comfortable,” [1] meaning that his presence brings comfort to the most unpleasant of circumstances.

We should ask for and look for the comfort from our Father. He longs to see us return to home and when he looks out his window and sees us from afar he will run to us (Luke 15). The comfort of the Father never goes away. It is not wearied or exhausted by our sins and it isn’t given because we’ve earned. The Father comforts because he is the God of comfort. His love is seen both in the act and in the warm heart that calls us to come to him to receive it. In our mind’s eye we see God with arms crossed ready to criticize or condemn, but God himself assures us that he stands with arms opened ready to welcome and console us. May our meditations on the truths of who God is change the relationship we experience in who God is to us and for us.

[1] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, Reprinted 2008), 9.

The Father’s Love in Adopting (Part 3)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) God the Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is called our Father, an endearing term unlike the formidable Deity of other religions. We are known as God’s children, sons and daughters, beneficiaries of adoption, and heirs. J.I. Packer writes, “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.”

Before Christ we were enemies of God, separated and condemned because of our sin. God is holy and will not let wrongdoing go unpunished. However, when we believe in Christ—the one who God did not spare so that he might take the full punishment of our sins—we are no longer enemies but children. Consider the following three verses as examples.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (I John 3:1)
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Gal. 3:26)

The longing in every person’s heart for a father who cares, loves, and protects points us to the perfect Father. Our greatest earthly examples of fathers are but a tiny glimpse of the goodness of God. Here again we must let the Scriptures speak for God and refuse any seditious thoughts Satan or self might project on God. God holds himself out to us as a Father who will always love his children. This love is unconditional, free, eternal, and undeserved. It is not won or kept by performance but is given as a promise. We should embrace him as sons and daughters, not fear him as servants. God wants to be known and seen in this way which is why he uses intimate and familial language of Father and children. “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. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:4-7). Paul was well aware how quickly we retreat back to fearing God as slaves so he presses the truth we can trust him like children.

Here’s one way I think about it. Imagine two people in your mind’s eye. First, imagine someone you feel comfortable with because you know how much you’re loved and accepted. Maybe that’s a spouse, parent, best friend, or a person at church. When you’re with them you don’t ever have to worry about being anything other than yourself. Imagine a second person you feel like you always have to measure up for, or who you don’t ever really feel at ease with because it seems you always have to impress them or be on your best behavior. You think if they saw the real you or you don’t do things just right then they wouldn’t like or accept you. Maybe this person is a parent, an employer, or a “friend”.

Now, think of the difference if you were just sitting in your living room with the first person either watching TV, reading, or talking. How free do you feel? Now imagine the second (intimidating) person is hanging out in your living room? How do you feel? You probably feel fearful or anxious, like you have to be on. Unfortunately, many of us think about God as if he’s this second person. We relate to him as if we’ve got to impress him or convince him we’re good. We don’t think he loves us and accepts us. This changes our relationship and how we act.

The Bible describes our relationship with God differently. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). Because of our justification in Christ, the Bible describes God the Father as the person in the room we should completely trust and therefore find rest with—awake to the fact we are truly known and yet fully loved and accepted. The Father doesn’t hold back love until we do change or earn it. It’s a full stream of love that is unconditional.

Imagine if we thought of and related to God on these terms. How different would your daily Christian life be if you believed and experienced that God is completely for you? This freedom puts oxygen back in our lungs that had been sucked out by fear. It’s the difference of practically living according to the gospel and living according to works. God is a Father who sees us and knows us, yet still loves us. He doesn’t put up with us, instead, he loves us and even likes us. This releases us from anxiously keeping up a façade or toiling to attain his love. We can rest in the way he delights in us. We don’t have to dress up before him in our nice clothing like we’re entertaining a guest. Instead, since he’s family, we can put on our jeans and enjoy the company. “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Additional Resource:
One book I would recommend in this area is Scotty Smith’s Objects of His Affections.

The Father’s Love in Revealing (Part 2)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself. If you missed this first point you can read it here, otherwise today we’ll jump into our second example.

2) The Father’s love is seen in the incarnation where the Son is sent to reveal the Father to us. Jesus is the revelation of God to us as one of us. “[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).This is most clearly stated in John’s prologue (1:1-18), where the Word takes on flesh and dwells among us, but this theme must be seen throughout the gospels. The OT background of the word is “his powerful self-expression in creation, revelation, and salvation.”[1] When an OT prophet received a word from the Lord it was more than just a message. It was God’s revelation of himself to his people.

The clarity and beauty of God’s self-revelations gets ratcheted up when God the Son dwells among us. As the Word, he is the self-expression of God. Jesus is God and reveals God to us. This points back to the Father’s love because it proves he wants to be known in a way that is clear, intimate, and according to truth. Because God is not like us in so many ways and cannot be seen or touched there are moments he seems distant. It might even make him at times seem hard to relate too. But, God doesn’t want things to stay that way so he sends Jesus to show us the Father. Philip said it would be enough if Jesus would show them the Father, and Jesus assures them that the Father is seen and known through his son Jesus (John 14:9). This is what John meant when he wrote, “He [Jesus] has made him [God] known” (John 1:18). God has expressed himself, and he has done so most vividly and visibly in his son Jesus Christ.

In his typical style C. S. Lewis wrote: “He is the self-expression of the Father—what the Father has to say. And there never was a time when He wasn’t saying it.” Jesus takes our vague or slightly distorted notions of God and gives us the real picture of the Father in his fullness of grace and truth. When we think about the beauty, humility, and glory of the incarnation we should also find comfort in the Father’s desire to be clearly and intimately known by us. If the Father seems distant or unapproachable we should look to the incarnation of Jesus to see just how near and inviting the Father has come.

“You don’t need to be in the dark about God. He has gone beyond parchment and paper. He has gone beyond tapes and cassettes. He has gone beyond videos and even beyond live drama. He has actually come and pitched his tent in our backyard and beckoned us to watch him and get to know him in the person of his Son Jesus. When you watch Jesus in action, you watch God in action. When you hear Jesus teach, you hear God teach. When you come to know what Jesus is like, you know what God is like.”[2]

The incarnation is God’s evidence he wants to be in relationship with us but it also the proof that he wants to be known rightly, clearly, and intimately. This is one reason why I try to consistently stay in the NT Gospels. The more I see Jesus in action, hear his teachings, watch his encounters with people, and consider his redemptive works I will see the heart of God the Father behind it all. It should astound us that the infinite, transcendent, and perfect God would make knowing us and being known by us one of his highest priorities. What a joy that God is a Father who doesn’t just show mercy—and that would be wonderful enough—but he wants a real relationship where he know and love him. Our perceptions of God become fuzzy and distorted when we look at earthly figures of fathers or authorities. However, when we look at Jesus the character and compassion of the Father is clearly and accurately put on display.

Footnotes:
[1] D. A Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 116.
[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-word-became-flesh

The Father’s Love in Sending (Part 1)

FathersLove
Loving God is hard. That’s a strange thought in light of the fact God is the only perfect being with boundless love and unending goodness, untainted by even the tiniest spot of evil. And yet, our experience proves that loving God is in fact curiously hard for us. Even more remarkable is how difficult it can be to let ourselves be loved by God. There is no richer, more desirable and comforting place for the Christian than in the love of the Father. But, there is no more alienating and lonesome place than to feel estranged from His love.

For many Christians, the love of Jesus comes through loud and clear, but God the Father often seems distant and looming. Unfortunately, many of our perceptions of God have been distorted by earthly shadows. Usually topping the list are experiences of fathers who failed, dealt with us according to our performance, or were a figure invoking more fear than freedom. Coming in at a close second might be religious leaders or other authority figures heavy on the “truth” and light on the “grace. Because of those inadequate human representations of God and because of performance-driven tendencies assuming God relates to us according to what we deserve, we must hit the refresh button on our false notions with the truth of God’s Word. Not just once, but we need to go back to the Scriptures repeatedly to let God’s priceless promises silence our false fears. Rinse and repeat.

Throughout Scripture, God reveals himself in relationship (covenant) through his words and actions. These demonstrate his character, motives, purposes, and attributes. God being the perfect being that he is, his attributes aren’t like human traits that strengthen or weaken nor are they like moods that come and go. God is all his perfect attributes perfectly, all the time. One of those attributes is love. God is love and therefore expressions and illustrations of his love fill the Bible.

Those are the facts, but unfortunately our experience doesn’t often beat to the drum of those facts. We might read the Bible and yet struggle to see the Father’s love. We find it hard to believe it can be true. We resist and keep God at arms distance. Sometimes we do this because we don’t feel his love on a day to day basis like we desire and so walls of doubt begin to shut him out. Other times we unwittingly read his word not through the lens of God’s love and grace to us in Christ but through tinted lens of condemnation and fear.

For some then, it takes work and careful reading so as to not misread the Scriptures with their assumptions of God—based on past experiences or personal feelings—but to read and see beautiful ways God expresses his care, compassion, and kindness to us. Rest assured, the work required and the patience you might need to keep at it in the midst of discouragement are worth it in the end. Growing in both believing and feeling the Father’s love leads to the warm embrace of assurance and the joy that it brings. My hope is that our grasp of God’s love will move from a general and vague idea to a sweet and personal experience. God desires as much and once the fountain of the Father’s love is opened we’ll find ourselves stepping into new streams of gratitude, contentment, joy, and safety.

The examples in the story of the Bible proving and picturing God’s love abound. Here are seven such examples—one at a time—from the NT of how God clearly and convincingly conveys his fatherly love to his children.

1) The Father Gives His Only Son To Gain Adopted Sons and Daughters
The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself. We love Jesus for his sacrificial suffering on the cross to rescue us from sin. No question about it, Jesus deserves every ounce of gratitude and love we possess. But, don’t miss that the same Scriptures showing us Christ’s love in dying also reveal the immense love of the Father in sending and sacrificing. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). He so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son. No verse has been placarded in more places than John 3:16 and yet somehow we miss the particular and pursuing love of the Father as the dispatcher. The Father is the fountain of the love and Christ is the stream that carries it to us. Every time we return to the cross and find ourselves awash in the love of Christ be amazed at the Father who sends.

The Lie
Whether from the lies of the accusers or deception from our own minds, Christians can act as if Jesus is the good guy who convinces the fear-inducing father to show mercy. It’s as if we think the NT story is that God wants to bring down the gavel because he’s fed up with our unrelenting bent to ruin things. So, to patch things up, the Son sneaks away from heaven and shows us love by dying in our place. Now the Father is compelled to become a tad bit gentler with these new and unwanted family members Jesus brought home. Of course, we wouldn’t say we believe anything close to that but that’s how all too many people unconscientiously view God the Father.

The Truth
In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Father dearly wants to be in a loving and intimate relationship with us so he sends the Son to bring us back. Both the Father and the Son stagger us in the way the cross expresses their love. The Bible reminds us that the Father sent Christ for us with a full awareness of how sinful, broken, and messy we were. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Isn’t that the point of grace? We certainly didn’t deserve it before receiving Christ nor do we earn or keep it because how we act as Christians. The all-encompassing work of Christ covers our sins from the past, our sins today, and our sins in the future. There are no exceptions. No “but you don’t understand what I’ve done” and no “my case falls outside the lines.” There is no sin too filthy to outmatch the purity of Christ’s blood. There is no one who has sinned so often or to such a degree that they’ve exhausted the infinite grace Christ purchased for them.

This unmerited and unprompted love of God shines even brighter against the backdrop of our dark and ill-deserving condition. That’s why John erupts into saying, “Here is love!” when he thinks about the Father giving Jesus to get wayward children into his family. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9-10). God knows all things fully and so make no mistake, he knew better than you how undeserving you are, but he still sent Jesus to save us from our sins because he loves us and he wants us back.

John Owen called this the great discovery of the gospel.[1] Without the gospel we can only think of God as offended and angered by our sin—and rightly so—but through the gospel our relationship is reconciled and changed so that we can now know him as love. In the gospel God offers some amazing benefits of salvation but none are greater than the gift of himself. It is a gift of communion with God as our Father, full of an affectionate love our hearts ache for.

Every day we have vivid reminders of our sin and so we return to the gospel to find grace that justifies us not because of what we’ve done but because of what Jesus has done for us. This glorious and free grace comes to us through Christ but finds its initiating source in the Father. In his wonderful book The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes pushes us to not only see the beauty of Jesus in willingly taking the commission of Savior, but also to “see the sweet love of God [the Father] to us,” in commissioning his Son for the work of our salvation. “This saving object [Jesus] has a special influence of comfort to the soul, especially if we look not only on Christ, but upon the Father’s authority and love in him”[2]. The cross is the exclamation and the evidence of how much the Father loves us.

I watch the following video often as a reminder of the “mega-love” (Piper) of God.

Footnotes:
[1] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, 24 vols (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, republished 1997),II:19. Owen says we have communion with the Father in his love that is free, undeserved, and eternal. We are to eye it, to receive it, and to return it as we are delighted in it. “This is the great discovery of the gospel…here he [Father] is now revealed peculiarly as love, as full of it unto us; the manifestation whereof is the particular work of the gospel.”
[2] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, Reprinted 2008), 2.

Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (chapters 7-8)

sibbesI’ve been blogging my way through The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. It’s only a couple of chapters a week and I’m now halfway through the short book. Books are like movies in that it’s hard not to make your most recent favorite your all-time favorite. The temptation to overstate things notwithstanding, this is quickly becoming one of my favorite books. Sibbes was known as “the sweet dropper” and throughout this book the sweetness of the gospel is thick. He wrote against the Catholic (“popish”) remains in religion such as a reliance upon external behaviors without consideration of the sincerity of the heart and ritualistic forms of penance instead of genuine repentance. Later Puritans outside a heavy Catholic context would write with other issues at the forefront.

In Chapter 7 of The Bruised Reed, Sibbes addresses two main concerns. First, he investigates some things that might hinder comfort, and secondly, he answers the question whether our weaknesses should keep us from our Christian duties. In the first section, he addresses four ways our comfort and assurance might be hindered in the person who is a “smoking flax.” Whither those hindrances come from Satan or from within the answer is the same: fly to Jesus and open up your complaints to him. As he mentions earlier in the book when discussing the bruised reed, Sibbes here mentions that remaining sin and a struggle of comfort can be an opportunity to be honest about our helpless estate and lean harder upon the mercy and supply of Christ. The realization of the weakness of the flesh can lead to a more steadfast watching and purging of the flesh, and a thirst for pardoning grace from God. The bright compassion and grace of Christ can be seen more clearly against the backdrop of our dark hearts. Furthermore, the fact that there is in us a discontent with our weak state of grace and an unhappiness to remain might conflict us in the moment but it gives comfort by its evidence that we are not happy in our sin. Such is a mark of the work of the Spirit in us.

In the second section of chapter 7 he encourages believers to keep performing their duties even when they don’t feel like it. Though their faith might be weak and they struggle to believe anything they do might actually change the situation or be pleasing to God, don’t let feelings trump the truth. Having seen the compassion of Christ to a bruised reed and smoking flax throughout the whole book, “it should encourage us to duty that Christ will not quench the smoking flax, but blow on it till it flames” (50). The image their is striking. Though there is but a spark of grace in us, Christ will stir this spark into flame by gently breathing into it. Sibbes gives the example of prayer. Although our efforts in prayer might be weak and our thoughts unclear and confused as we pray, this should not keep us from praying. Weakness in prayer is always better than not praying, and the same is true in all Christian duties. “Christ looks more at the good in them which he means to cherish than the ill in them which he means to abolish…Christ loves to taste of the good fruits that come from us, even though they will always savour of our old nature” (50). Going back to the example of prayer, Sibbes preached these words to his congregation: “There is never a holy sigh, never a tear we shed, which is lost. And as every grace increases by exercise of itself, so does the grace of prayer. By prayer we learn to pray” (51).

In chapter 8 Sibbes asks where these discouragements come from. From what he’s already said about God he reasons with us that these discouragements cannot come from the Father, the Son, or the Spirit. They cannot come from the Father because he will “pity us as a father pities his children (Psa. 103:13)” (56). They cannot come from Christ. “We see how Christ bestows the best fruits of his love on persons who are mean in condition, weak in abilities, and offensive for infirmities” (56). And finally, they cannot come from the Spirit because he is our comforter (Rom. 8:26; John 14:16). “If he convinces of sin, and so humbles us, it is that he may make way for his office of comforting us” (57). That conviction is quite different from the discouragement the author has in mind. So, if they do not come from God then what is the source? “Discouragements, then, must come from ourselves and from Satan” (57).

The next chapter-“Believe Christ, Not Satan”-will continue on with this line of thought. In his last sentence Sibbes exhorts us to flee from our Accuser and run to our Advocate. “In time of temptation, believe Christ rather than the devil. Believe truth from truth itself. Hearken not to a liar, an enemy and a murderer” (61).