Choices and More Choices

“Chicken, beef or vegetarian?”

The text was from the planners for an upcoming banquet. My meal choice was needed and I quickly shot back my answer. I was hungry.

Ahh, wouldn’t it be nice if all decisions in life were that easy?

They’re not. Most the time I hate being pushed into issuing a verdict. I often try to put off coming to a conclusion as long as possible because I naturally doubt my initial conviction. Yet it seems there’s always some kind of decision I’m being asked to make—financially, vocationally, relationally, politically, ethically, spiritually, medically, nutritionally, etc., etc. Some feel easy, some seem irrelevant, while others overwhelm me as completely impossible. And I must remember that procrastination and even not choosing at all are all choices. I can’t get away from them!

Following Jesus is the choice I want to focus on. It’s actually a decision made up of many choices: daily, hourly and even minute by minute. They determine what I believe, think and do, as well as how I react, love, hate, give, trust others, and distract myself, all in light of truly being a follower of Jesus.  And sooner or later an outcome chases after each one—outcomes, that for better or worse, I must own.

Consequences

Joshua said it several thousand years ago, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). He was fed up with the people of his country waffling on important issues like who their god was going to be. I find, however, that I so dread the thought of being stuck with the results of a bad choice (I don’t have all the information after all) that I look for ways to avoid committing at an intersection in life. Saying ‘yes’ to one thing means saying ‘no’ to one or more others. What if a better option comes along? Can’t I just hold off and sit here for a while, no obligations? Of course I can; that’s a choice. And it will eventually produce some kind of consequence.

As a result, it’s easy to just let life happen, which is releasing others to make choices for me. That then becomes my choice with its own set of consequences. I’m sure that some who were listening to Joshua were thinking, if not saying out loud, “But what if a better god comes along?” Hmm. And how did that work out for them?

They’re Ours to Own

The irony of making decisions is that while we want, and even fight for, the right to make our own choices—resisting the commands of those “Joshuas” who want to control us—we also struggle with it. There are many times we would rather someone just tell us what to do. Choosing can be hard and confusing work. It’s nice to have someone who’s figured it out give us the answer. And if in the end their judgment was wrong then it wasn’t our fault. Right?

Unfortunately, for that way of thinking, an irrefutable law stalks us: everything about our choices belong to us. We choose, whether we realize it or not, how we respond to everything that is thrown at us, even the things we didn’t choose: our DNA, our upbringing and all those crazy, painful outside circumstances or abuses. Though it feels like we don’t have a choice, we still must decide our response, our attitude and our actions. What we do with all that is given or thrust upon us is ours! And as much, if not more, these choices are what make us who we are, for good or for ill.

 A lot of Choices to Examine

I want to use this blogging space going forward to talk about what it means to move through every day as a follower of Jesus, depending on His grace but recognizing all the choices before us. There’s actually many to look at because walking with Jesus involves our entire life—every part. And like so many other choices, not committing or half committing our lives to Him (is it possible to half-commit to my wife?) has an eternal consequence.

So, take Joshua’s challenge and choose. Some choices will be as simple as deciding between chicken or beef. Others will force you to search more deeply, determining WHO you’re going to serve each day. And your options are quite limited on that last one. For, as the Bible communicates and one of our American cultural prophets, Bob Dylan, has said, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

The choice is yours.

Reflections

  • What are some of the choices I regularly make that I rarely if ever think about?
  • In what ways do my everyday choices reflect my level of commitment to following Jesus?
  • What is the most powerful influencer of my choices? Circumstances? Feelings? Values?

Choosing Holiness

The word “holy” has always fascinated me while at the same time made me feel uncomfortable. Throughout the scriptures, it is used to describe God, His Spirit, His dwelling place and many of the things he does and has done. My discomfort comes from the fact that I can’t relate. To be holy gives me the impression of being disconnected from reality, in a way that sounds extremely boring and a little scary. Yet on the more attractive side, it has sometimes stirred a sense of mystery within, mainly because I feel there’s more to it than I have experienced or understood. Something or someone that is holy seems to be in another realm that is definitely not of this world. “Otherness” or “indescribable purity” come to my mind. If true, it could be kind of fascinating to experience. But, practically speaking, why would I want it?

Most the examples of “holiness” that I have been shown over the years have centered on what a person didn’t do (and were usually proud of it). People who were serious about holiness didn’t wear certain clothes, especially the kind that were popular or trendy. They didn’t touch alcohol, tobacco or drugs—at least so others knew about it. They stayed away from expressions of any kind of sexuality, never even talking about it. And for the overachievers, women wouldn’t wear any makeup or jewelry, the men grew no facial hair, there were no tattoos, and everyone avoided going to dances or watching movies. And then there were those who seemed to see it all as a competition. That was my impression.

No thank you. I can live without “holiness.”

There’s more to it?

But then, as a Jesus follower, I find the word all throughout the scriptures. What am I supposed to do with it? One verse in particular gets me: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14, NIV). This appears to say that holiness is a requirement for getting close to God. Really? It sounds like God thinks it’s pretty important.

But all those examples I’ve seen of “holiness” strike me as superficial. Maybe the people were sincere in what they were trying to do, yet nothing about it ever appeared to be more than putting on appearances. The goal seemed to be to merely look holy or just look different. Is that truly what God wants from me as His child?

I sure hope there is more to holiness than this.

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Choosing Irrational Relationships

I was the new kid, knowing no one and no one knowing me. Having just moved in from out of state, trying out for the football team as a high-school freshman was my uncharacteristically bold way of seeking connections. But half-way through the first day, I realized it wasn’t working. Everyone could see by my clumsy movements that I had never played this game before. I was an athletic pariah. No one dared risk expending social capital to get to know someone who would not increase their chances for success on the team.

At the end of the long day, I dragged myself toward the locker room with quitting on my mind. “Hey, I think you’ll do all right,” a voice said behind me. I turned to see the player I had from the beginning of the day identified as the overall star of the team. He slapped me on my shoulder pads. And with that heavy thud, my life changed.

Kelley ended up becoming my best friend through our high-school years. His extroverted popularity covered my shy awkwardness in ways I had never before experienced. We went on to room together at college (he continued his success as a football player) and were the “best men” in each other’s weddings (I finally beat him in finding a wife sooner). We were the first ones at the hospital when each of our daughters were born within a few weeks of each other (both, little beauties). To this day, decades later, though we live in different states and stay connected with phone calls and visits whenever possible, I still consider him my best friend.

Years after that first day of practice I asked him why he, with such rich social and athletic clout, reached out to me, an unknown nobody. He shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I just felt my heart go out to you.”

That was it.

Why do we choose the relationships we do?

It’s no secret that many use relationships as stepping stones to help get what they want. It’s not unusual for someone to let a “friendship” wither once it’s no longer useful or convenient. And for most of us, the thought of initiating a relationship that shows no potential for personal benefit doesn’t even enter our minds. There are natural subconscious blocks against that. Whether I consciously acknowledge it or not, relationships are most often evaluated on “what they can do for me.” Energy, effort and commitment to others are meted out as I can envision what the return will be on my investment. Granted, sometimes wisdom requires me to trim my social interactions when I get overextended or a relationship becomes unhealthy. But what standard do I use for such pruning?

The Bible has much to say about how we do relationships. Of course, its message is best summed up in one word: LOVE. 1 Corinthians 13 gives us specifics, like being patient, kind, not envying, not boasting, and banishing pride. Yet, biblical instruction for how or what reason we are to initiate relationships is given with a bit more nuance. We are told to be wise: “The righteous choose their friends carefully. . .” (Proverbs 12:26, NIV). And “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Corinthians 15:33, NIV). These and other passages give the general idea that if you expose yourself to the right people regularly, goodness and favor are likely to pass on to you, making your life better. Makes sense. So, the Bible is saying we should initiate friendships with those we perceive will help us get ahead in life, right? Kind of, but not exactly.

An Illogical Choice

The Old Testament story of Ruth provides an interesting counterbalance to all the relationship pragmatism we find in the Proverbs and other verses. As a Moabite, Ruth married a young Jewish man who had immigrated to her country with his family from Israel during a famine. Extreme hardship hit when her husband died along with her father-in-law and her husband’s brother. She was left very vulnerable with two other widows—her sister-in-law and mother-in-law, Naomi.

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Choosing Rest

Few things feel better than a good night’s sleep. To wake in the morning feeling energized and refreshed is one of the best ways to face whatever circumstances waiting for me that day. But why do I seem to do almost everything there is to sabotage ideal nighttime rest?

I stay up too late and then get up too early to allow myself the seven to eight hours needed. I stare at electronic screens up until crawling between the sheets. I end my day thinking and worrying about work or ministry problems, relationship issues, family concerns, politics, and how I would like to drop 15 pounds. Any of these things have the potential of setting my mind and stress into motion so that rest eludes me. Why is quality rest something I so strongly desire yet so often fail to experience?

A simple internet search leads me to a multitude of reasons rest and sleep should be made a priority. Here’s a few:

  • It boosts the immune system—our bodies produce infection-fighting antibodies during our sleep.
  • It improves memory—while we sleep, our memories and skills are shifted to more permanent parts of our brains.
  • It restores and invigorates—the cells of our bodies are repaired and re-energized while we sleep.
  • It stimulates creativity.
  • It helps manage weight—yes, you read that right!
  • It improves concentration and productivity.
  • It slows the aging process—WOW!

God Values Rest

In Genesis 2, God is described as resting after He made the world. The completion of creation was so significant to Him that He declared the seventh day to be holy and a day of rest. It has always seemed odd to me that the Almighty God who I was taught never grows tired or weary needed some down-time to recover from His work. Huh?

Awhile back, it dawned on me that God’s decision to rest wasn’t due to exhaustion. He chose to stop and take in all that had come into being. God ceased from His labor to evaluate His work and pronounce it GOOD! This declaration of the original goodness of creation is so important with unlimited theological significance. It’s the baseline from which we evaluate and understand the opposite—sin and evil—as well as the framework for future hope and what God desires to return us to and even beyond. Goodness was the starting point for everything made, and God chose to stop and reflect on it!

And then to emphasize its importance, He placed it in the center of the 10 Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). It went from being one of God’s post-creation ruminations to a law written in stone for His covenant people. Rest is good, as modern science is showing. But why make it a part of a legal system? Surely, God was overdoing it.

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Choosing to Not Compare

I have done it more often than I can count. Setting my house, my car, my education, my career, my life next to a neighbor’s, a friend’s or even an enemy’s. I then feel the discomfort when they don’t match. Occasionally I feel better than them. But most often I come out on the losing end. When I don’t have what the next guy possesses, I wonder what’s wrong with me. And it shapes how I see myself. Why have I found that I’m almost always comparing what I have and who I am with those around me?

Sometimes it’s a dark indulgence in envy (read post: Choosing to Resist Envy). I want what someone else has and my attitude sours toward those who have what I don’t. But other times I believe it’s something that runs deeper. I have often studied what others possess to determine the standard by which to judge my own worth. “Who am I and what is my value? Let me decide after watching what everyone else is doing.”

Many of us, I believe, fall into this trap of comparing ourselves with others to determine how we view ourselves. It doesn’t end well.

A Bible Story

Jesus told a parable that illustrates how letting others shape our identities affects our place in the Kingdom of Heaven. In Matthew 25:14-30 we learn of a man, the owner of an estate, who entrusted his money with three servants before going on a long trip. The first servant was given five talents, the second servant two talents and the third one talent. Bible footnotes inform us that a talent in Jesus’ day was worth about 20 years of a day laborer’s wage. Today, if we generalize a “day laborer” as making $15 an hour, 20 years worth would equal around $576,000! The man in this story was entrusting high levels of wealth into these servants’ hands. Why? The best I can tell is that He wanted to learn how reliable each of them were to handle even greater things he desired to give them.

The first thing I note here is that the servants were not equal in their external abilities. They were born with different skills, and the man in charge recognized this. He wasn’t concerned so much with their capacity to produce more wealth for him as much as he wanted to see what they would do with what they were given.

Poor Guy

From the first time I heard this story, I felt sorry for and identified with Servant #3. Yes, $576,000 (one talent) is a lot of money. But his fellow servants were given so much more. On the surface, nothing about this looked nor felt fair. If I were him, I would have immediately questioned everything: the owner’s integrity and trustworthiness, the justice of the system, and my own worth and capabilities.

And it appears that the third servant was thinking just like me. Heavy with what I imagine to be confusion, fear, and shame, he went out and buried the money. Afterall, comparing himself to the other two, he would never be able to make as much as them. So why embarrass himself even more? His personal value had been set according to how he stacked up against the other servants. Obviously, his boss at worst hated him and at best thought very little of him and his humiliation. He was merely a “one-talent” man and would always be less than those around him. He might as well act like it.              .

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Choosing Friendship with God, His Way

I was a child when I remember first hearing the concept of having a “friendship with God.” It provided a welcome relief from the burden of legalism my young perception of religion had pressed on me. But looking back, I now see that this new paradigm also brought a problem. My reference point for “friendship” was rooted in adolescent relationships, which were all focused on what made ME feel good. Thus, while thinking of my connection with God as a friend made Christianity more attractive, it also skewed my image of Him as I viewed our relationship through the fuzzy lens of what’s-in-it-for-me.

Friendships, in my adolescent mind, were supposed to boost MY self-esteem. They were supposed to make ME feel more valuable and less lonely. I was supposed to feel happier, more attractive and always affirmed in MY likes, dislikes and behavior. With the perfect friend at MY side, I imagined MY social awkwardness would disappear; MY shyness around girls would evaporate; I would get more compliments and affirmation. And I would have someone to help ME with MY homework to get straight A’s. The friendship motif was brilliant! Who wouldn’t want one with God?

A Different Kind of Friendship

Initially, I felt hopeful. I had found the secret to the good Christian life: walking through this world with God as my buddy. However, as time went on, I began to experience frustration and disappointment. God didn’t show up as a friend in all the ways I expected. I didn’t always feel happy, and I felt even more socially awkward. Loneliness still haunted me and guilt and shame nipped at my heels. My relationship with God eventually cooled as I began to see Him as not knowing how real friends were supposed to act. He needed to learn a thing or two about how to be there for me when I needed Him.

It was quite a few years later that the truth dawned on me. I had never looked into or thought about God’s understanding of  “friendship.” Was it possible that His perspective was different than mine? Was He actually friends with people in the Bible? And if so, were there ground rules? How did they work?

I discovered that there were actually only two biblical characters referred to as a God’s friends—Abraham (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23) and Moses (Exodus 33:11). God did some pretty cool things for them (friends do that). But I also saw that God laid some expectations on them as well (friends do that too). A friendship with God was a two-way street, receiving and giving (while trusting)—something my immature grade-school understanding had failed to comprehend.

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Choosing to Manage My Hatred

As a child learning Bible stories, I was intrigued by the Old Testament tale of Jonah the prophet. The idea of spending three days in the belly of a live fish never failed to stir my curiosity and horror. How did he eat, breathe or go to the bathroom? However, I didn’t think at all about the question that now provokes my greatest concern with this narrative: why did God put Jonah through such a gruesome ordeal? Couldn’t He have gotten the prophet’s attention with a method a little less abusive (to him and the fish)? The man finally relented and obeyed (though it doesn’t appear his heart ever embraced it). What was Jonah’s issue that bothered God so much?

Some Bad Dudes

The problem centered on a group of people called the Assyrians. Of all the brutal, twisted, fiendish ancient warriors, these citizens of Mesopotamia, with Nineveh as their capital city, were at the top of the conqueror’s food chain. Their armies had completely obliterated nation after nation. Some of their artistic images we have today show soldiers cutting out the tongues of prisoners of war; flaying captives while still alive, then impaling them on sharp poles. Those they didn’t torture and kill were exported as slaves. The news of their atrocities was calculated to strike fear in every people group they were yet planning to invade. To the Assyrians, cruelty was merely a practical component of the business of world domination.

Jonah would have been very aware of all the gruesome stories. He understood these savage subjugators were making their way toward his home in Israel. “Hate” is a mild word for what he felt. However, when he received the call of God to “get up and go to the great city of Nineveh [and] announce [God’s] judgment against it because [God has] seen how wicked its people are (Jonah 1:1), Jonah did not rejoice over the opportunity to preach fire and brimstone to these sadistic murderers. Instead, He knew the gracious character of God well enough to realize there was only one reason the Sovereign Lord would want His judgment announced: God was hoping the Assyrians would hear, repent, and change their ways. The Lord desired to forgive and show them mercy. But this was the last thing Jonah wanted for his people’s enemy. So he took off in the opposite direction.

Yet even after God’s severe intervention with the giant fish, Jonah’s heart didn’t change, though he reluctantly obeyed the second time. In Nineveh he preached God’s judgment against their sin and announced the coming destruction of their city—hoping all along they wouldn’t respond. However, to his utter disappointment, they acknowledged their evil and sincerely repented. And the Almighty Judge spared the city. The story ends with God scolding Jonah for not understanding His merciful heart for ALL people. The prophet’s hatred had blinded him to God’s larger plan.

Complexities of Hating Evil

Hatred is bad—but not always in the Bible. Proverbs 6:16-19 gives us seven things that God hates: “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies [and] a person who sows discord among brothers and sisters.” It’s right to loathe evil activity and the injustice it brings. God’s hatred of bad behavior, however, amazingly does not interfere with His tenderness and compassion for people. In spite of the sin that He despises in this world, He does not want anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Humans, on the other hand, don’t naturally handle hatred that way. Once we lock onto something as bad, hurtful, unjust, disgusting or evil, we tend to reject and hate everything and everyone associated with it. If we’re not careful, mercy evaporates from our hearts. And we drift from God.

There are a lot of unacceptable things in our world to hate right now. Everything from racial inequities, political corruption, and child exploitation to greed, false accusations, and plain old narcissistic behavior in relationships. The more intensely I focus my disgust on one or more of these things, I feel my blood pressure rise. Typically, while in this state of mind, I find no room in my heart for compassion, and I long to see all offending people and groups pay for their transgressions. Mercy? Grace? Ha! They don’t deserve such things.

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Choosing to Embrace a Triune God

I was attending college in Southern California when I had my first discussion with a Muslim about the nature of God. He was from Iran, highly intelligent and very polite. After listening to my stumbling words trying to explain the Holy Trinity, using my Sunday-school knowledge, he asked a one-word question: “Why?” I had learned the quaint analogy of the Trinity being like the three components of shell, yoke and white making one egg. There was also the one compound of water expressed in its three forms of liquid, steam, and ice. But no one had ever explained to me WHY the Trinity was important for my understanding of God. Was it? Or did it merely operate as a theoretical abstraction that needlessly divided people? I was speechless. My friend smiled but was kind and let the matter drop.

Several years later as my relationship with God was deepening, I came back to this topic. Besides Muslims, I had since bumped into Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses who ridiculed the absurdity of worshiping three gods. It was intellectually embarrassing. Was this Christian doctrine necessary for my faith? It certainly wasn’t convenient. I needed to explore it in earnest.

Why Trinity?

The first thing I realized was that the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. It was coined by early Christians to describe a head-scratching phenomenon that careful study of the biblical documents revealed. Not only were there passages that stated there is only one God (Deuteronomy 4:32, Mark 12:29), there were passages where Heavenly Father was referred to as God (Isaiah 64:8, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 4:4-6), passages where Jesus was referred to as God (John 10:30, Philippians 2:5-6, Colossians 1:15-17), and passages where the Holy Spirit was referred to as God (Acts 5:3-4, Ephesians 4:30, 2 Corinthians 3:17). How could this be? Some might have thought these were just the result of unreliable manuscripts. But others understood that an important aspect of God’s nature was being disclosed. They took the word for “three” (tri) and the word for “unity” and squeezed them together to form a description that in English is known as Trinity—three united as one.

There were a lot of people that didn’t like this understanding of the divine; it didn’t make sense to them. One guy in particular named Arius (Google him) led an opposition movement. He explained that Jesus was not an eternal being of the same divine substance as God the Father who had no beginning. Instead, Jesus must have been God’s very first creation—a powerful but limited, angelic-like being. This idea was easier on many people’s brains and Arianism gained a large following.

Another guy named Athanasius (Google him too) became the outspoken challenger to the teachings of Arius. Besides pointing out the scriptures that reference Jesus as God, Athanasius was concerned about our whole understanding of salvation. He wondered, if Jesus Himself was not fully God, what good did His death do in saving us from our sin? By stripping Jesus of divinity, Athanasius understood that our redemption would be empty and meaningless because only God Himself is holy enough to atone for all the sin of humankind.

In the end, the relentless determination of Athanasius won out, and the Western, Eastern and Coptic Churches rejected Arianism and embraced a purely Trinitarian understanding of God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all have no beginning, no end, and work together so perfectly that they are rightly referred to as One.

But, why else?

This information helped. When someone later asked me if Jesus was praying to Himself while He was on earth, since He was God, I was able to find words to respond. The Father and the Son were individuals yet completely united in purpose as one. Therefore, Jesus was not merely praying to Himself but to His Father of the same divine substance as Himself.

However, I still struggled answering the question, “Why?” Athanasius had said that salvation as presented in the scriptures worked only with a triune God. Did this provide an acceptable reason for embracing the idea of three in one, even though it seemingly defies logic? Yes, I could simply choose to believe it. But I still longed for something more to tighten this Christian doctrine into my mind and heart.

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Choosing to Remove Barriers Between Me and the Father

“I believe in God, but I don’t feel close to Him,” a young woman told me after a class one day. She went on to say how she wanted a better relationship with God, but thinking of Him as a father meant nothing to her— although she sometimes was angry with Him. She had felt close to God when she was a small child, but she could not imagine Him being there for her now when she really needed Him. Most of her prayers felt as if they hit the ceiling and dropped to the ground unheard. After a bit more conversation, she mentioned that her dad had died of a heart attack when she was eight.

Her dad was gone, and she felt that Heavenly Father had disappeared too. Was there a connection? Does the relationship (or lack of one) with our earthly dads influence how we think of or feel about God?

I think so.

A Unique Relationship

I have learned from experience that this is a touchy subject. Talking about God as Father stirs emotions. People have told me that they suddenly feel angry with me for bringing up the topic. Others sob uncontrollably. Still others go strangely numb, feeling nothing at all. Of all the topics I have taught in discipleship courses, the Fatherheart of God has consistently produced the most varied and strong reactions. The cultural background or ethnicity of the listeners has not seemed to matter. Why is this so?

Every human has parents. The power of a mother and father (present or not) in shaping the sense of being and life trajectory of a person is undeniable. While the role of a mother, among many other things, helps determine the foundation of whether someone feels lovable, nurtured and secure, fathers—more than any other role—possess the ability to shape identity and purpose (for good or for ill). Children carry the family name of their dads and longingly look to a father to show them who they really are, their personal value and why they’re in this particular family and even on this earth. To have a dad’s undivided attention, patient input, guidance and adoration is every kid’s dream.

Responding to a Father

Most everyone I talk with is moved by the idea that God has strong feelings of affection for each one of His children (read post: Choosing to Find My Place in the Father’s Heart). But when we get to the part about each of us reciprocating affection back to the Father, things get complex. Many do not know how to respond to a father’s genuine love because they have rarely if ever seen or experienced it. Or it’s been nuanced in such a way that it’s indiscernible. At this impasse, the wide mix of emotions surface, and many choose to not explore what’s going on.

Whether we like it or not, fathers (in our lives or not) have left deep imprints on who we are, our ability to trust, our sense of personal value and where we believe we’re going in life. They have also set a pattern that has determined much of how we respond to the idea of God as Father. I am convinced that if we want to grow in our relationship with God, we must look honestly at the kind of earthly dads we were given. Honestly acknowledging the truth about their human strengths, weaknesses and failures, can put us into a better position to receive the love, affirmation and clarity of identity that our Heavenly Father is longing to give.

Dads Shape our Image of Father

Below are six categories that I believe help identify the type of father-image we grew up with. They are generalizations. Real life is more complex. None of them precisely describe everyone’s experience. But they can provide words for the father image we’ve been carrying. In most cases our dads will be combinations of multiple points.

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Choosing to Find My Place in the Father’s Heart

I vividly remember the moment I became a dad. My daughter was a tiny thing, just over five pounds. Holding her, I couldn’t comprehend the strange feelings pulsing inside me. As I looked into her little face, I thought, “I don’t even know you, yet I’m sure I would die for you.”

That was my introduction to the emotions of being a father. I was surprised with the overwhelming affection I felt for this naked, helpless, yet demanding creature. It wasn’t long before another thought rocked my reality. If I, an imperfect human and dad, can feel this strongly about my child, then what does my Heavenly Father feel toward me? The thought brought tears. Can I be loved with such strong affection by a holy, all-powerful God? And just as I was getting lost in these reflections, something warm ran down my arm. My precious little girl had peed on me. But did that change how I felt about her? Not in the slightest!

The Unmoved Mover?

I enjoy theology. For me, it’s thinking about God, what He’s like, what His motivations and desires are and how we humans can possibly connect with Him. Unfortunately, some theological thought can lead people away from a relationship with God as they wander down paths that tarnish His character or drill into only one aspect of the infinite spectrum of His qualities. Thinkers of the past, like Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, have been referenced to make a case for God as a being who does not experience emotion. It’s called the doctrine of Divine Impassibility. The basic (extremely simplified) idea is that God doesn’t change (which I agree with). Emotions are so changeable (which I also agree with). Therefore, God doesn’t experience emotions (not sure I agree with that one).

The logic makes some sense, but there are some additional matters that need to be considered. While human emotions can have us happy one moment and depressed the next as we respond to circumstances or brain chemicals, God is different with everything about Him stable and righteous. Nevertheless, the Bible presents the Almighty at various times as delighted, grieved, joyful, regretful, angry and tender. It’s always in the context, however, of His righteous character interacting with the imperfect, unrighteous ones He loves—never merely out-of-control, knee-jerk impulses. His goodness and holiness are constant throughout the scriptures. We could say that His emotions do not control Him, but at various times they highlight what He values. Overall, it appears to me that God has feelings and that He is rightly moved by them.

A Father’s Heart

The New Testament carries a strong theme of God as our Father. Does that mean He has the feelings of a dad toward His kids? I think so.

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Choosing to Wait

Recently I assisted my two young granddaughters in making a craft/snack project. With the help of their grandmother, we made little “bird nests” out of peanut butter, chocolate and crunchy chow mein noodles. As a final touch, we placed three colorful jelly beans in each. The girls were delighted, especially when I told them we could eat them later. However, every time a nest was full, and I glanced away for a moment, my gaze returned to find an “egg” or two missing. Delayed gratification is a foreign concept for two and three year olds.

It’s not until a child is five or older that she can even begin to comprehend the benefits of restraining those immediate urges. I like to think that I have moved beyond preschoolers in the self-control department. However, when I step on the scale and grimace at the number that appears, why do I not stop my unhealthy late-night snacking? Satisfying my short-term appetites still dominates much of my behavior. Studies have shown that those who learn to defer gratification have greater success in many areas of life—academic and social competence as well as physical and psychological health. Might it also apply to spiritual wholeness and well-being?

What’s so good about waiting?

Of course, one of the Fruits of the Spirit is self control (Galatians 5:22). This tells me that an indicator of the indwelling Spirit of God is my own spirit’s ability to govern itself according to God’s desires and design. A lack of self control implies that there are still resistors within impeding the flow of the Holy Spirit’s presence and will. Fruit, afterall, naturally appears on healthy plants. Thus difficulty in managing my negative impulses, be they angry, controlling, eating, sexual or verbal, indicates God’s Spirit does not yet have full sway in my life.

It’s also a matter of what has my attention in the moment. One of the conditions that hinders the development of deferred gratification is a focus on avoiding discomfort with little-to-no thought for future ramifications. Like most everyone, I want to feel good and satisfied now. I appreciate the immediate benefits the Bible presents to followers of Jesus, like peace, joy and forgiveness as we put our faith in Him. But much of what the scriptures offer are promises for the future.

Hope is the confidence that there is good ahead regardless how life is going at the moment. The way things are today—difficult, negative or evil—is not how they’re going to remain. That’s hope! The problem, however, is that we often place it in things, events, advice or people that are not reliable or at best short-term (read “Choosing to Put My Hope in Something Worthy”). Much of what Jesus told His followers had them looking into the future with growing expectation. In fact, to be a follower of Jesus even today one must let go of demanding that every question, problem, pain, doubt or discomfort be resolved instantly—or even in this lifetime. Resolution is coming, though we don’t see or feel it now. Patience, also called long-suffering, is one of the most difficult yet necessary virtues for us to embrace as long-term Jesus followers.

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