Sometimes Dads have trouble expressing their love for their children. This American Life in the 2011 episode, Father’s Day tells several stories of Father’s trying to reach out to their children. In particular I was touched by the story of Rachel. In 2005 Rachel was about to head off to college in New York. One night before Rachel left for college she was sitting with her family watching T.V. Her dad turns to her and tells her that he is going to build her an emergency terrorist attack kit. Remember 9/11 had happened four years before. Rachel was rather surprised by her father’s statement. To quote Rachel,
“It was completely out of nowhere. But I looked at my mom. And my dad has this one particular face he makes when you must take him seriously. His eyebrows get raised, and his eyes go really wide. And he stares at you. And he was doing that, so I didn’t argue about it.” Rachel goes on to describe the different things her father gathered for the box, “So the whole summer, my dad would find these different items to pack. Some of them were from weird Internet locations. You can only get a universal radio that did not require electricity that worked with every cell phone from a crazy website. This is not something they sell at every store. So he ordered this special radio, he ordered a NASA issued space blanket and flares and fuel pellets for a stove you only needed fuel pellets for. Potassium iodide pills, in the event of a nuclear attack. He was really proud every time he found a new object. Every time he thought of a new thing, he’d say, “I found something new for the box.” And I’d laugh, I guess, because what else can you really do but laugh? And find it really one of those, oh Dad, type of things.”
When it is finally time to go to school Rachel’s Dad packs all the items in a nondescript box and labels it, “winter coats” so not to draw attention. He sends Rachel off to college in New York with explicit instructions not to open the box unless there was an attack. And Rachel obeys her father’s instructions for the first year. And then for a second year. But her Junior year Rachel was going on a trip to London. Even though there was no attack in New York or London at the time Rachel finally decided to open the box. Rachel tells us why,
“So I knew that there was $200 in there, and I was about to leave for London for my junior year. And I really wanted to go tanning before the summer really started, so I just decided to open the box and take out the $200.”
Rachel did indeed open the terrorist attack box and extract the $200. But when she did she discovered something in the box that she did not expect. To quote Rachel,
“And I actually, when I did open it to get the money out, there was a letter inside from my dad that basically said, you know, if you’re reading this, your mom and I love you and it was just– oh my God, I’m actually get choked up thinking about it, I’ve never gotten choked up think about it– but it was basically a letter. Just saying, if you’re reading this, something really bad has happened. I just want you to know that your mom and I really, really love you. And everything’s going to be fine.” Rachel describes her reaction to this letter her father had written to comfort her in case the unthinkable befell her, “You know, my dad and I, we talk, and we communicate. But neither one of is very good at talking about our feelings. And it was just really sweet. It was really sincere. It was like one of the most sincere things I’ve ever gotten from him.”
Of course, Rachel knew in a sense that her father loved her, as perhaps many of us know that our parents love or loved us. But sometimes it is hard for us to get the head knowledge of our parents love into our hearts. Sometimes, our parents have fallen short in significant ways and our hearts close off from love to protect ourselves from hurt. But when we close our hearts off from our parents the Bible shows that we close our hearts off from God as well. Indeed, our hearts have been closed to God’s love as a parent since Adam and Even disobeyed God and decided to go their own way. And I believe in these verses from Philippians today there is good news.
The Good News. When we are filled with the Spirit of Sonship we will shine like lights in a crooked generation. How can we be filled with the Spirit of Sonship?
- By Accepting and following Jesus’ example of Sonship by humbling ourselves.
The Fall described in the open chapters of Genesis was a terrorist attack by the Devil to infect all of creation with fear and hurt. But God had more than just a survival box ready. He had a plan for new life ready to redeem his creation, “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 first loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:7-11). While we were busy trading our inheritance for a spray tan of sin, God sent His only Son to ransom us back from the clutches of sin, death, and the devil. We didn’t even know. We didn’t ask him to do this. But he is gracious and merciful. In the fellowship of the Trinity we might imagine the conversation between the Father and the Son about the plan of redemption. If I were the Son of God I would argue with the Father because dying on the cross doesn’t seem like a good idea. There has to be another way. But the Father didn’t command the Son to die for us. He did it willingly. He humbled himself. Though he had the status and the equality of God, he did not consider that as something to be argued over, as something to be grasped, but he emptied himself. As the Gospel of John says Jesus delighted in doing his Father’s will and being in His Father’s Love. For Jesus doing his Father’s will and being in His Father’s love was a greater delight than all the power in the universe. And thus Jesus humbled himself.
This is the Spirit of Sonship. When Jesus struggled in his humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane, to do his Father’s Will and go to the cross, he cried out Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will. ” ( Mark 14:36). The book of Romans says this ancient prayer is as important as Jesus is Lord. Crying out Abba, Father is a prayer that we might no longer be slaves to fear but we might be Sons and Daughters of God. (Romans 8:14-17). The cry Abba, Father admits that we cannot do this on our own.
As I thought about Christ’s example of Sonship in Philippians I was reminded of the book Sonship: A Journey Into Father’s Heart. By M James Jordan. Sonship tells the story of how James came to know the love of God as Father. James is a Christian minister who grew up in a small town in New Zealand. In Sonship he recounts how he closed off his heart to His Father and how God opened His heart to know God as Father and to reconcile with his biological Father.
According to James when he was ten years old he remembered learning that he could get paid by the New Zealand government to hunt deer ( Jordan, pg 58). Deer are not native to New Zealand so they have no natural predators. Therefore the government pays people to hunt them. Hearing this good news I am sure some of you avid hunters might be considering a move to New Zealand at this moment. Jordan was also elated to hear that he could get paid to hunt deer. When he heard this news he basically gave up any attempt to succeed at school because he knew he was going to work for the government culling deer, which he eventually did. In reflecting on his decision as an adult Jordan realized there was more to his decision to become a government deer culler than his love of the outdoors and hunting. To quote Jordan, “ I love the mountains, but what really drew me was the sense of freedom from relationships that this lifestyle promised. I had discovered that people could hurt me and I thought that, if I could live without people, I could live without pain. Most of my pain was in connection with my father.” (Jordan, pg 58).
James describes his relationship with his father, “One of my abiding memories of my dad was that he had a real capacity for making arguments especially when he was drunk, which was often. No matter what one said, he would take the other side and provoke and be contentious. When I was a little boy I didn’t understand that my father had problems that he was locked into. I just thought that he hated me. He used to provoke me to the point where I would literally lose control of my body and go berserk with anger and frustration. When he would provoke an argument, all I heard him saying was that I was stupid. “There’s something wrong with your brain. You’re an idiot. You’re not good enough for me. I don’t like you. You’re crazy. You can’t think straight. There’s something wrong with you!” Since then I’ve learned something about arguments. Arguing has nothing to do with the subject. The subject is merely a tool, which an argumentative person employs to give them the upper hand. An argument is actually a power struggle.” (Jordan, pg 60).
An argument is actually a power struggle. I think this is true in our human relationships, especially relationships between parents and children. Yet, the relationship between the Father and Son in the God head is far different. It is one of perfect love, perfect agreement, perfect humility. Each member of the Trinity seeks to exalt the other in a perfect circle of glory. To even become a human being Jesus had to humble himself and give up his status. He had no need to have a power struggle, because he had all the power of the world, because He made the world and the world was made for him. He just chose not to use his power for himself. The Son of God had no need to struggle over power because He was on this Earth to do only what he saw His Father doing. He was on Earth to glorify His Father, delight in His Father, and demonstrate how deep the Father’s love is for us. Because Jesus never clung to power he had no need to engage in a power struggle. Because he was comfortable in the power of His Father’s love he felt no need to argue, instead he continued to humble himself, even unto death, yes even death on a cross. But while Jesus’s relationship with His heavenly Father was absent of any power struggle the same cannot be said for human relationships between parents and children.
James describes the struggle between him and father in his book, “ Doubtless my father had some issues. So did I, but I was just a little boy. And when he would use all the strength of an adult voice, an adult mind, and all the power of his personality against me, there were times when I actually kicked cupboard doors off their hinges. I would almost literally see red, slam the door, and run to the hill behind our house, fuming and crying until my heart would settle down. I would come back when all the lights were out, climb in my bedroom window and go to sleep. No one came to check whether or not I came back. There would be tension in the house for days. Then slowly it would dissipate until the next argument. Growing up with that I closed my heart to my father.” ( Jordan, pg 61)
Even after James became an adult the pain of his relationship with his father stayed with him. Even when James became a Christian this pain stayed with him. Even when James got married this pain stayed with him. Even when James became a minister and an evangelist this pain stayed with him. But then James met Jack Winter, a minister who founded a ministry called Daystar ministries. Jack was a minister who wanted to Christians to experience the Love between the Father and His Son Jesus. He wanted Christians to know God as Father as Jesus knew God as Father.
During his time with Daystar ministries, James was praying one morning in the chapel and he was surrounded with a strong sense of the presence of God. James heard God speak into his spirit in prayer. God asked him a simple question. “James, who’s son are you?” James was about to respond to God that he was Bruce Jordan’s son. But the Holy Spirit convicted James. Because of his hurt he had stopped being a son to Bruce a long time ago. He was not a son to Bruce in the way Jesus was a Son to His Father. He did not delight in doing His Father’s Will. He did not delight in His Father’s Love. James realized, that His Father, who had seen horrible combat in World War II, was scared and broken himself. Bruce simply didn’t have the love his son wanted. And you can’t give what you don’t have. James realized these things. But he didn’t really know how to forgive his father from the heart. (Jordan, pg 57).
After being taught under Jack Winter’s ministry for a while, James Jordan finally reached a point where he was ready to receive the Father’s love. James went over to Jack and asked him to pray for him. Jack Agreed. James recounts what happened next, “ Jack knelt down beside me and looked me right in the eye. “Can you be a little boy who needs to be loved?” he asked. I thought, “I’m a twenty nine year old man. I’m not a little boy!” But when I looked into Jack’s eyes, somehow I knew that he was seeing me for who I really was. On the outside I was fit, strong, and capable but on the inside I was a little boy who needed to be loved because I had never known a father’s love. The truth is, if you have never known a father’s love, then you still need a father’s love today. And so I said to him, “I don’t know Jack, but I can try.” He asked me to put my arms around his neck like a little boy who need to hug his dad. I had never hugged a man in my entire life but I put my arms around his neck. It felt tight. He was giving me a clear message that I was not getting out of this until he was finished! He then prayed a very simple prayer, “Father, would You come now and make my arms to be Your arms around this young man.” In that moment I wasn’t being held by Jack any more, I was being held by God. He continued, “Would you pour Your love into his heart because he has never known a Father like You.” After two or three minutes he was done and I stood up. From that moment on, it seemed that everything was different. Whenever I would start to pray, the word “Father” came spontaneously from my mouth. I felt as if my spirit had touched the Father. In reality it was the Father who had touched my spirit.” (Jordan, 92). It took several years for Bruce to say, “ I love you Son.” But that day finally came. James recounts when his father finally said I love you Son!
“It was in 2001 and he had been hospitalized for six or seven years. Diabetes had cost him his right leg and his eyesight was greatly diminished. He couldn’t watch television. All he could see was the brightness of the window and there was nothing of interest outside the window. He ahd suffered a number of minor strokes and lost his short term memory although his long term memory was still intact. I went to see him because we were going away on a long ministry trip to Europe and, for the first time in my life, I was able to have a conversation with him in which he was not argumentative. All of the arguments had gone out of him.
I told him how I had felt when I was a boy during all the arguments that we used to have. He was just listening and understanding, with no argument left in him. As we were talking he said three times, “I’m so sorry!” My father had never apologized to anyone. Three times that day he said, “I love you, son!” As I was going out the door he said, “Oh, by the way” I turned round and said, “You know, I always loved you!”
I remember going round to my mum’s place having left him in the hospital and telling her what we had talked about and she said, “When you used to slam the door and walk out into the night. Do you know what your father used to do? He would go into the bedroom and lock the door. He wouldn’t allow me in there, because he was crying.” ( Jordan, 98).
What wondrous love is this? That could bring a father and son together after so many years of sorrow? It is the love of the one Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who never argue with each other put pour themselves out for us. It is the love of a Son who did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped but he emptied himself. And when we emptied ourselves we too will be filled with that love. For the world will not be convinced with an argument. Instead, the world will be convinced by a love letter from God. And as Paul says in 2 Corinthians we are that love letter from God. Written not on tablets of stone but written on human hearts. Written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. So let us approach him with fear and trembling for the wondrous love that he provides us. Let us cry out Abba, Father, that we may become sons and daughters of God, not slaves to fear, that perfect love might come and cast out fear, that the world may know the power of sonship.