My Father

Have you ever thought about the meaning of the word Father?

You’ve probably never needed to, because it seems so obvious… so self-evident. I used to think so too, until recently.

I was going through a “dark-night-of-the-soul” period where I found it difficult to pray. For some reason, it just stopped making sense speaking to a God that was invisible and immaterial. Whenever I closed my eye to pray, I was overwhelmed by the whole absurdity of the act. It just felt like talking into the air, into nothingness.

That’s when someone suggested a rather cliche solution: that I read the Bible and look at the way the people in there addressed God. Most specifically, how Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to address God.

Jesus called God His Father.

“Our father who is in heaven,” he taught us to pray. It sounded straightforward enough, except my main challenge was in conceptualizing God as a Father.

Many Christian counselors suggest that people who have difficulties thinking of God as a Father usually had a bad experience with their earthly fathers. They don’t know what is so good about having a father, and so they struggle to embrace a God who approaches them as one.

But the situation seemed different for me. This wasn’t about my earthly father. Growing up, my relationship with dad was more or less “normal.” My problem was a more philosophical one: How can I address God as “father” with a straight face when I know that God is Spirit and not human. Isn’t the word “Father” just an anthropomorphism of a being that is beyond our comprehension?

Well, I was in for a great (and pleasant) surprise.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word father as: “a male parent” or “a man who is thought of as being like a father.” Another alternative definition is: “one related to another in a way suggesting that of father to child.”

Beyond these surface definitions, Mr Charles and George Merriam and Mr Noah Webster don’t tell us much about what is actually involved in “being a father”, or what qualifies a man to be one.

Stay with me now. When you consider every aspect of what it means to be a father, you will quickly realize tat no single human being perfectly fits the description.

Does biology make one a father?

It is obvious that many who have contributed the Y chromosome to the existence of a child cannot quite be called the fathers of the child. This is especially if they have not contributed in any way to the raising of the child. These men fail to fit the “father” description because something, a relationship, is missing.

Does nurture make one a father?

In fact, there are many children being raised by men who are not related to them biologically, men who are married to their mothers, men that they call fathers. Even so, many who have been raised by men who were not their biological parents often say of these men, “he is like a father to me” as if he is not quite a father. Something is missing in the picture.

Does the law make one a father?

Or is it the law? Does legal adoption qualify one to be defined as a true father? And if so, why do we still feel the need to qualify the father title with an adjective such as “my adoptive father”. Somehow, we instinctively know that they are not quite the true definition of father.

Is it all three?

But even in the now increasingly rare case where one is raised up by the father who shares the same genes, these fathers still fall short. You may be biologically related to your father, he may be the one that raised you and his name may even be in your legal birth certificate, but he still falls short.

Earthly fathers don’t always love their children and when they do it is never a perfect love. Earthly fathers don’t always provide and when they do it may not be the best kind of provision. Even when they try their best, their humanity is a guarantee that they will never be the 100% father.

The fact that they are fallen human beings means that they will inevitably not measure up at being fathers.

The True Father

So who is the true father? Who fits the bill? Who meets all the criteria? Who is the one we can look at for any idea of what it means to be a perfect father? In other words, where do we get the idea that there is something like a 100 per cent father and yet no single human being has ever fit the mold? How do we know that the kind of fathers we have here on earth are less than ideal?

I found the answer when I went back to the Bible with my struggle. In the Words of scripture, I encountered a Father who fit the description, who met the criteria, and never disappointed. In the God of the Bible, I found not just the true definition of a perfect Father, I found the embodiment of that Father.

In my confusion, I thought it more realistic to address a human father than to address an invisible spiritual father. Yet the reality is that the human father was a false reality. No human being deserves to be called father. Not the man who contributed to your genes, and not even the man who raised you up. Only God fits the bill.

In fact, our earthly fathers are poor imitations of the true Father. Even the best of human fathers are mere glimpses of the perfection that is in our glorious heavenly Father. In other words, there is no truer and realer illustration of a human being talking to his father than that of a man praying to his God.

I am no longer struggling to pray. In fact, it is becoming more absurd to take my troubles to human beings instead of to God. I have learnt that prayer is the realest and truest form of communication I could ever take part in. Because in prayer, I am speaking to the only one who not only hears my words, but perfectly understands my words and perfectly responds to those words.

Through prayer, I can, for the first time in my life, talk to my real Father.

Lights, Camera, Action!

In a way, we are all Public Relations officers.

We spend most of our time managing and manipulating appearances. We care too much what people think about us. And of course it is not wrong to care what people think of us. Jesus calls us to be a light to the world. The salt of the earth. It matters what people think of us and see in us.

But sadly, for many of us, what people think of us is not what God thinks of us. The image we present to people is not an image formed and informed by our Faith. We care too much about looking good than actually being good. We worry too much about looking righteous instead of confessing the righteousness of Christ.

We are actors on a stage. Characters on a page. But God is seldom the author of the story. We are acting off a different script, our own script. Our friends barely know the real us, because we have bought them tickets and they are sitting in the theater, watching the edited movie of us. Our colleagues at work only get to see the rehearsed version of us.

But the backstage is empty. We don’t allow people there. The changing room is out of bounds. We don’t want them to see the skeletons in our closets and realize we are human like them. We are sinners like them. We are foolish. Like them.

We don’t want them to see that we too get lost, that we get confused about life and we often don’t have clue about what we are doing or what we want in life. We don’t want our friends to see that we follow our feelings more than our minds. We don’t want them to know that we often make decisions putting our own selfish interests first. No. We feign selflessness. We fake compassion. We manufacture charity.

But this does not have to be. It is hard to change. But God does not call us to change. He calls us to Himself. he calls us to believe and trust, AND THEN He will change us. He bids us to come, and then He makes us want to come and then He gives us the strength to come. It is all of grace because it is all of God.

May God redeem our story. May He re-write the script and yank us off that director’s chair. May we release our grip on the manuscript of our lives and let God’s Word be the script we rehearse and act out. May God’s story become our story and may Jesus be the star of the show.

And when the CREDITS go up at the end of our lives, may the name of Christ be the only name on that list.

Because He alone deserves the glory.

 

For the fame of His name.

Cornell

Why I Didn’t Sing in Church Last Sunday

When I walked into the church on Sunday, I immediately knew it will be a long morning. I had arrived on time, and that was the problem. You see, I just didn’t feel like singing today. In fact, I haven’t felt like singing for a while now. These days I am actually happy when I get to church late, just when the “Praise and Worship” session is ending and the preacher is about to go up.

Sometimes I sub-consciously deliberately go in late for this reason. I like to think of myself as a sermon guy. Perhaps that’s why I prefer pod-casts to pulpits.

It’s not like I haven’t asked myself what the problem is. At first I told myself I am a bad singer and I wouldn’t want the person standing next to me to hear me, but that was a lie. It’s true that I am a bad singer, but I don’t think my neighbor would hear, let alone care. The music is loud enough at my church.

So I tried to rationalize that it’s the standing up for one hour that I can’t stand. Can’t we just sit there and watch the “Worship Team” do their thing? They have been practicing all week, why should I spoil their perfect harmonies? But I knew that this was just another excuse.

I know the real reason, but it is embarrassing. More embarrassing than fearing my neighbor and being too lazy to stand up. The real reason is, I just don’t feel like singing sometimes. I don’t want to. Yes, I may know the words to the song, but I really don’t feel them. I know the words are true. I know that God is great, awesome, that God is marvelous, that He is glorious… but I just don’t feel like saying it over and over. Because it feels so fake, so forced, like being forced to eat your vegetables… or laugh at a bad joke out of courtesy.

Most of the time, I only do it because it is part of the program. If it were up to me, at such times, I would skip the singing.

And I have skipped it when it were up to me. In Bible studies that I lead, I cross my fingers that no one will suggest a song before we begin. It’s a similar feeling with the prayer. I like to keep it short. Let’s just get to the Word. It is the preaching that I love. I can listen to the sermon for hours, and even preach one for longer.

I can’t help but wonder, am I the only one who feels this way sometimes? I know there are many amongst you who feel the exact opposite. You love the singing, but the sermon puts you to sleep. You can jump for hours, but you can’t sit for even 20 minutes. It is a strange thing, this difference. I wonder if it says something about the state of my spirituality… and yours.

By the way, have you read any book by J.R.R. Tolkien? He is an amazing writer! I love the way he weaves a beautiful fabric with his words. The way the words of his stories just freely roll down the tongue when read out loud. Bilbo Baggins, even the names of his characters are lyrical.It is like he wrote for both the eyes and the ears. Tolkien is a wonderfully gifted writer, I could sing his praises and praise his works all day long and then some. Every time I read his work I am inspired to tell the world about him, and write similar stories of my own. I can’t help but wonder if this is the wonder that escapes me when I face the thought of singing about my God.

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

There Are No Ordinary People

In the words of the late C.S. Lewis:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter;

it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back,

a load so heavy that only humility can carry it,

and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them,

that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.

We must play.

But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

Adapted from The Weight of Glory

Your log, my speck… Wait, that’s not it.

Luke 6: 40-42

“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother: ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brothers eye”

As followers of Jesus, we are being conformed to his image and we have a responsibility not only to become increasingly like Him, but also to assist our brothers in their quest to be like Him too. So we hold each other accountable, rebuke one another, encourage one another, correct one another, help one another; bear one another’s burden’s etc. Some of these activities (read rebuke/correction) are not fun especially if we are on the receiving end of the rebuke.  In times past I mostly interpreted the above verse as prohibiting me entirely from correcting my brother when they are wrong. It’s one of those verses you read, feel guilt and figure you should shut-up permanently. After all, at any one moment, I am largely unaware of the plethora of ways in which I may be, and probably am, sinning. Ergo, I have no moment when I have a right to confront my brother for their sin. Right?

Wrong. 

Thinking about the above verse, it appears to play out something like this:

1. Question: Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Answer: That’s a good question! Why is that happening?  If you think about it, a log is infinitely larger than a speck. Extending the analogy to its logical conclusion, it becomes clear that this log must be obvious to you, not least of all because your eye is probably itchy; red; tearing and uncomfortable as a result of its presence. So WHY do you ‘not notice’? Well, I suspect the problem is not that we do not notice this nasty irritating thing in our eye (duh!); its not that we are ignorant of this log, the problem is that we are ignoring it. This passage is not about how hidden sin disqualifies you from dealing with your brothers sin (otherwise you’d have to wait until heaven to confront your brother….which is really quite pointless!) Rather, Jesus seems to be talking about the fact that there are revealed sins we DO know about (perhaps sins we’ve been talk to about) which we are consciously, voluntarily not dealing with and because we are not dealing with them all attempts to rebuke our brothers will inevitably make us:

2. Hypocrites! Yup. If the above person is us then we are pretending! We are claiming to see on one hand and to be blind on the other. We are saying ‘hey my sights so good I can help you take out this speck and at the same time ‘oh no I don’t see  this protruding thing in my own eye’.  We are lying.  Lying to others and perhaps, at some point, will end up lying to/deceiving ourselves if we avoid dealing with the sin long enough.

So, again,  question: if you ‘can’t see’ your own glaring obvious sin how well-equipped are you to deal with someone else’s sin?

3. Answer: you’re not well equipped! At all. If anything your dangerous to your brother. You need to hold up a mirror to your own eye; take out your own log and THEN (and only then) take out the speck in your brothers ( and yes…really… take it out!) Once you acknowledge and deal with your log, life becomes so much clearer and you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brothers eye.

So, what I think is that Jesus is saying is that sin that’s being ignored in my life: prayerlessness, abandoning the habit of meeting together with saints, being unfaithful in doing my duties – name it – will significantly undermine my capacity to be useful to my brother. Until I take out my log I’m not in a good position to help others not least because my motivations and attitudes in doing so could (most likely will) be all wrong and I could end up being mean or self-righteous or hurtful or all manner of other unhelpful things and seeking to do things in selfishness rather than God’s love.

While my logs remain unchecked I am a dangerous person to my brothers. A hazard to everyone’s eyes, if you will! I will probably leave people terribly scarred by my saving exploits.  But if I take out my own log, my own health benefits, my own peace is restored and my usefulness to my brother: my ability to help him/her enhance his/her own sight by gently+firmly pointing out to him/her things he/she genuinely may not even have noticed, is greatly increased.

May God help us.

– J

The Moment of Truth [Game Show]

the-moment-of-truthThe Moment of Truth is a 2008/09 American TV game show whereby participants get to answer 21 questions and stand to win a grand prize of $500,000. Prior to going on the show, each participant is administered a polygraph exam. This is done by answering 50 random questions, most of which are intensely personal. 21 of these questions are then picked to be asked again in front of a live audience, including the contestant’s close family and friends, and he or she is supposed to answer each of the 21 questions truthfully… or walk away with nothing. What struck me about this show is how much people are willing to risk and sacrifice for the sake of half a million dollars (that’s over 40 million Kenyan shillings!).

It’s amazing just what people are willing to sacrifice for 40 million shillings. When the moment of truth comes, the contestant is willing to forsake all, his friendships, his marriage and his family… for a good amount of money. A wife is willing to destroy a 20 year marriage for 40 million shillings. A son is willing to alienate his parents for 40 million shillings… Husbands will readily admit that they have been cheating on their wives; wives will confess to be in love with the husband’s brother or best friend and a daughter, like Melanie Williams who won the grand prize, will confess that she believed her dad was a pedophile.

I was watching this show the other day when it hit me; these people are willing to literally confess their most heinous sins and uncover their vilest secrets in front of a national audience for the sake of their god. Money is a powerful idol that is often underestimated. Paul was right, “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils…” Human beings are willing to bare their souls, revealing their utter wretchedness and lay all their sins at the foot of the money-god.

But am I willing to do the same for my God? Am I willing to lay down my vilest sins, confessing them before God and man for the sake of the ultimate prize of eternal glory? My God, who is LORD of all, Creator of all universe and the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills… Is He appealing enough to risk my dignity and reputation for? Am I willing to hate my mother and father for the sake of this God of mine the way others are willing to do it for the sake of money? When the moment of truth comes, am I willing to lay down my pride, lay bare my soul and count it all as loss for the sake of knowing Him, and owning Him?

I am not so much shocked that people in this show are willing to stake it all for the sake of 40 million shillings; I am more appalled that if the same demand was to be made of me regarding my love for my God, I will hesitate, and most likely settle for nothing.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:24-25a]

The Myth of Christian Balance

balanceThis life is like a pendulum (or you can look at it as a balancing scale, if you like). We are always swinging from one extreme of a pendulum to another. As many theologians will perceptively point out, we are always either in the danger of trusting in our own ability to keep the law (pelagianism) or becoming complacent in the name of surrendering to grace (antinomianism). Some people will react to complacency by urging us to be radical for Christ. Others will react to radical Christianity by urging us to be ordinary. But what if life is not really like a pendulum? What if the location of true holiness is not midway between two sinful extremes? What if we are describing logically what can only be perceived and understood spiritually? I believe that while this call to Christian balance is full of good intentions, it is often rooted in an unbiblical understanding of sin and righteousness.

BLAME IT ON ARISTOTLE

In Nicomachean Ethics, this is how Aristotle describes virtue:

“Virtue is a purposive disposition, lying in a mean that is relative to us and determined by a rational principle, by that which a prudent man would use to determine it.”

In other words, “Because practical circumstances vary a great deal, there are no absolute rules of conduct to follow. Instead, we can only observe that right conduct consists of some sort of mean between the extremes of deficiency and excess. For instance, courage consists in finding a mean between the extremes of cowardice and rashness, though the appropriate amount of courage varies from one situation to another.Continue reading