The Living Father
THE LIVING FATHER
Getting rained on for two days and sleeping in a tent in the woods, isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. But when Craig Puryear, one of the leaders of Boyscout troop 376 here at Calvin Presbyterian Church, invited me to Camp Shenandoah, a Boyscout Camp outside of Staunton, VA, I decided to take him up on the offer. Rarely have I seen men and their sons filled with such peace and joy as I did at Camp Shenandoah. I think part of feeling alive isn’t so much about where we are living or what we are doing but who we are with when we are living and doing. And at Camp Shenandoah I met some really great youth and some even better dads. It really impressed me that grown men would take a week off of work to spend time with a great group of boys who could be a little unruly at times. At Camp I met a father who lost his dad when he was young. He got involved in scouts later in life. His son was there as well as a scout leader, following in his father’s footsteps. I also met a Father who had grown up in poverty and was convicted that he would provide a better life for his son. There are men who have sons. And then there are men who live to be Fathers. I was honored to have met men who lived to be fathers at Camp Shenandoah.
And Jesus said,
“As the Living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
The Good News Today is this. Because we have a living Father there is life for every generation. To understand this good news we must understand two things.
- What the Bible means by Living
- What the Bible means by Father.
The Bible describes God as the living God. It compares Yahweh the one true God, to the false gods of surrounding nations. These nations would often make idols or statues to their gods. But these statutes didn’t move, they didn’t speak, and they had no power to save. Psalm 115:8 says that those who make idols and trust in them become like them. In our Christian walk we call anything that we worship over God an idol. And indeed, we tend to take on the characteristics of the people and things we focus on and put our time into. These idols may bring pleasure to us in the short term but they are like those chocolate Easter bunnies. They taste good, but they are hollow on the inside.
At Boyscout Camp the scouts tested their camp fire building skills with a competition. Whoever could build a fire that would burn through a piece of string suspended above the fire would be the winner. After several days of rain this was no easy task for all the fuel to be found was wet. The Bible also presents a fire building competition to prove that the God of Israel is the living God.
In 1 Kings 18 Ahab, the evil King of Israel has introduced worship of the false god Baal. But the people are divided. They don’t whether to worship Baal or Yahweh. Elijah is a prophet of the LORD or Yahweh. And he is outnumbered. There is only one of him and 450 priests of Baal, the rest of the prophets have been slaughtered by Ahab. So Elijah proposes a theological test of sorts. He proposes that he and the prophets of Baal get two bulls to sacrifice, one for each god. Each team is to build a fire and place bull on top of it but not light the wood. Then the 450 prophets of Baal would call out to their god and Elijah would call out to his. Whichever god set the offering on fire would be proven to be the living God, the powerful God, the real God.
So the prophets of Baal take Elijah up on his challenge. They build a fire for their offering. And from morning until noon they cry out to their god to bring fire from heaven to consume the offering. But nothing happens. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting perhaps their god was laughing at them, had gone to the bathroom, was on vacation, or asleep. So the prophets of Baal cried out even louder, they even resorted to cutting themselves, but nothing happened.
Then it was Elijah’s turn. He called the people of Israel to him and told them to fill four jars of water and poor the jars on the offering. Then he had them poor the four jars a second and a third time on the offering, till the water was flowing down from the altar, filling the trench around the altar. Certainly, the Israelites must have thought this was a bad idea. Imagine how the scouts would have felt if I had thrown a couple of buckets of water on top of their struggling camp fires. I certainly wouldn’t be following the scout code. But Elijah is doing this because that is what the LORD commanded. He is doing it to be obedient and to make his point that the LORD is the living God. And Elijah prayed, “ O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36).
Then the fire of the LORD fell from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in trench. Not only did the LORD consume the offering, he consumed the wood, and vaporized the rock and the water. I looked up the temperature at which rock is vaporized. It is something like 3,145 degrees F. or 1,730 degrees C. When the people saw this they fell down on their faces and declared, “the LORD he is God, ; the LORD, he is God.” There seem to be three components to interacting with the living God. 1. Listening. 2. Asking. 3. Doing
First, we see that Elijah didn’t come up with the idea of this contest on his own. The text tells us that it was “according to the word of the Lord.” Somehow he discerned that this is what the LORD wanted him to do. We see this in the fact that Elijah had the people of Israel use only three of the four jars of water filled. If he wasn’t going to use the fourth jar why fill it? That is what the LORD told him to do. And yet for this to be fulfilled Elijah has to perform some actions and ask for the LORD to do something
In our own lives we want God to be like a math problem. We want the correct interpretation of scripture that we can follow to win all our battles. Do X+Y=and you will get Z as a result. God being a living God means he is capable of responding to our requests. God being a living God means there is no formula for getting God to respond to our requests. It is a Divine dance between asking, listening, and acting on what we think to be the LORD’s will in the moment.
Second we see that John describes God not just as living God, but as the Father. John calls God Father, more than any of the other Gospel writers. And his emphasis is on the special and intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. And we can sonship with God when we come to believe in Jesus. John is describing what came to be known as the doctrine of the Trinity. That there is one God in three persons. I like to think of the Trinity as a family. They all have the last name of God but they each have a different first name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Like the partridge family that does everything together and gets along together, The Trinity moves as one, they are of one mind. But they each have different personalities. And the Father is most often talked about in regards to characteristics like love and peace. I think God calls Himself Father because God wants to fulfill a very basic need. That being the need to have loving parents. Because the fact of life is not all of us have loving parents. And even if we do at some point we will have to say goodbye to them.
I haven’t lost either of my parents so I don’t know what it is like. But I tried to look online for accounts of those who have lost their parents. And I found a good account by an Australian Journalist named Susan Bigger, of the death of her Father, her last living parent. Bigger reflects that though she lived in Australia, continents away from her Father in America, the physical distance did not prepare her for the death of her Father. This is what she says,
“it wasn’t the same life. I was constantly adjusting to the absence of him, an absence that hung around like a persistent fog. I have lived oceans away from him and my mom for close to 30 years, so I understand physical absence. Yet this was different. Is different. No clever technology can overcome the gaping distance that now separates us.
The word “dreadful” comes into its full meaning for many of us in the context of burying parents – and the detritus of their lives – as it is one of the most dreaded phases of our lives.
And yet, despite the dread and time for preparation, it’s often not as we expect. The American writer Joan Didion reflected on the unexpected nature of loss in The Year of Magical Thinking, a harrowing look at the year following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it,” writes Didion.
And it strikes me today that maybe some of you here are grieving what you never had. Mourning in silence, grieving the absence within you. You see the love that others have and you want that but you don’t know how to get it. Your parents are not dead but perhaps your relationship with them is. Perhaps today you feel like the prophets of Baal crying out into the silence, cutting yourself, hating yourself, consumed in the pain of silence, confronted with a living God, a God who can speak but for some reason remains silent
We see this clearly in Elijah’s story. He mocked the prophets of Baal that their God was silent. But the living God can also be silent. After this victory where the Prophets of Baal are slain, King Ahab still goes after Elijah and casts him into the wilderness. Elijah finds himself hiding in a cave, licking his wounds in defeat. Perhaps all of us know what that is like. Then the word of the LORD came to him and said, “ What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replies that while he still cares about the LORD, despite his victory on Mount Carmel, the people have still abandoned him, all the other prophets are dead, and he is the only one left. And the LORD asked him to stand on Mount Horeb. But apparently, discouraged, Elijah remained in the cave. And a great strong wind came that tore through the mountain, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of sheer silence. Only at this strange sound of sheer silence did Elijah go out of the cave to see what was going on. The LORD spoke to him and told him to anoint two kings, one of Syria and one of Israel. And there would still be more battle. But the LORD would preserve a remnant of the people of Israel for His name. This wasn’t the message Elijah wanted to hear after all he had been through. But it was the message he got. And he was faithful with the message.
Rarely are our hurts, pains, and fears, silenced overnight. Though trust and dreams are broken in an instance it takes time to repair the breech, which is why it is better to use a semi-colon in the story of our lives then a period. Instead, of making it all better over night the LORD takes us through a process in our lives. This can lead to moments of profound clarity. But that doesn’t mean the LORD wasn’t speaking to us before. Only looking back do we see where he was leading us. As the book of Zepheniah says, “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. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.” (Zephaniah 3:17-20). Like a good father sings over his child in her fear, sings over us, but we don’t always hear. It is a lifelong process to learn to hear him because he doesn’t always speak in the same way. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love us. As it takes a while for children to be calmed by their parents as they sing over them, sometimes it takes us a while to hear what the LORD is saying to us. Because he is always speaking love over us. He just doesn’t have to speak in the same way. And sometimes what he has to say isn’t what we want to hear. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love us. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a living father.
The Apostle Paul says this about God’s Love, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 1:1-5). It always seemed to me that Paul was describing an experience that actually happened. The Holy Spirit is like a river and God’s Love is like a boat that floats into the ports of our hearts when we open up our gates to the Father’s Love for us. I know this is true because I had it happen to me. The Father’s love washed away the hurt of my heart and it doesn’t hurt anymore. He sung a song over me and his love finally broke through. I won’t tell you exactly what it was like because we have a living Father and perhaps he wants to minister to you today differently than he did to me. But I will pray to our Father. Sing a song over us today Father. Quiet our fears with your love. Let your fire fall from above that we may be the sacrifice, living sacrifices on the altar of faith. Answer me, Father that this people may know that Jesus is Lord, that he is God, and that by the power of the Holy Spirit reveal to us that we are not alone, we are not living in a cave, but we have a living Father.