Publication: Pastoral Letter, June 1999
Dear Friend in Christ!
In the years before the birth of Christ, Israel knew God as Eternal, Almighty, Provider, Healer, Shepherd, and Holy Spirit, but not as Father. Jesus came to reveal God as the Eternal Father; the Father of those who receive the Son. It is vital that mankind know God as our personal Father, the One Who is good and merciful.
Many people do not know God at all. Others believe He exists, but have no personal relationship with Him. Many Christians receive Jesus, but do not realize that God is their Father. The effect is to rob us of the tremendous grace that is ours through His Fatherhood in our lives. God never became “The Father.” He always was, and is, and shall be the Father, by His very nature. Because Jesus is the Eternal Son, God is the Eternal Father. Jesus came because the Father loves us and sent Jesus to save us from our condition. Jesus is presented in the Gospel of John as always pleasing the Father, doing the Father’s will, and telling the disciples that if they knew the Son, they knew the Father. There is nothing about Jesus that is unlike the Father (see John 14:1-11).
Many people, even Christians, think of Jesus as being different in character from the Father. They may pray to Jesus, not to the Father; they may see Jesus as more caring than the Father. However, Jesus came to show us the Father’s love and care. He taught us to pray to the Father.
Jesus prayed “Abba Father” – a term of personal endearment (see Mark 14:36). Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit prays through us, “Abba, Father” (see Romans 8:11,15). When we consider Who God is, it is overwhelming that we could know God in this way. Many people relate to the law, to religion, or to tradition, but Jesus calls us to relate to God Himself as our Father.
Why it is VITAL
Relating to God as our Father changes the nature of our relationship to Him from impersonal to personal. It helps us to see ourselves not only as believers, but as sons and daughters. It brings us into the security of His goodness and mercy. It releases us to represent His love and grace, not just His laws and doctrines. The Fatherhood of God gives us a more mature witness of the Gospel.
Another vital benefit is how His fatherhood affects unity. It draws us together with all His sons and daughters, and it brings us into a greater fellowship with Him and one another (see 1 John 1:1-4). Fellowship with the Father helps us to understand the plight of those who are estranged from Him. Like the apostles, we call them to reconciliation through Jesus Christ.
God is Creator, but before He created, He was the Father. God is Judge, but before He judged even the angels, He was the Father. God is the Counselor, but His counsel is the counsel of the Father. God is King, but the King is our Father. Jesus came so that in the end, all dominion would return to the Father (see 1 Corinthians 15:24).
I remember soon after accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior, my father and I were praying. I had begun my prayer with “Dear God….” After we had prayed, my Dad said, “Son, you don’t have to say ‘Dear God,’ you can say, ‘Dear Father.’” I will never forget the day that I realized that the Almighty God was my Father.
Natural fatherhood is given to us as a revelation of divine fatherhood. The name Abraham, the father of Israel, means, “father of a multitude.” Israel was a family long before it was a nation. Family is an extension of fatherhood and gains its name from God the Father. Ephesians 3:14-15 tells us that every family (Patrai) derives its name from the Father. Family is a fatherhood and carries the name of the father; it is the extension of a father’s procreation, provision, and protection.
How sad that many have lost that understanding, because many fathers do not know God as Father. They have failed as natural fathers, and the name “father” has fallen into disrespect. For many children, “Father” is a word that brings pain.
Natural family should emerge out of a father’s covenant love. The bond with his wife should provide the security for procreation and child-bearing. But millions of families without fathers reflect a vast emptiness and sorrow. Though many women do a great job of being mother, they can’t be father. So, many children grow up without any real understanding of fatherhood.
Malachi 4:5-6 tells us that God would send “Elijah” to restore the hearts of fathers to children, and children to fathers, lest He smite the earth with a curse. Were it not for the New Covenant, the last word of the Bible would be “curse.” Thank God that the curse is removed through Christ. But separation of fathers and children brings a curse. Poverty, crime, and disease all testify to the curse of wayward fatherhood. The place to stop the maladies that plague us is at the Father’s heart.
The Gospel restores our relationship both to the Heavenly Father and to natural fatherhood. In Psalm 78, the writer tells fathers to pass on the wisdom and truth of former generations. The enemy knows that he can defeat generations, if he can separate them from their heritage. He works long and hard in our day to bring a breach between parents and children. Family has often become scattered individuals who have lost the ability to bond with one another. And they are alone when they fall. This non-bonding, or non-covenant mentality is then carried over into society. Society becomes individuals driven by self-interest – not a community.
Children need to see their parents honor their grandparents, so that they will understand how to honor their parents. I remember an evening when our family sat down to dinner some time around 1977. Dad and Mom had retired on a very small pastor’s retirement income, and we had given them a car, helped them into a new home, and shared other blessings with them. Our oldest son, Stephen, said, “Dad, you and Mom have been good to Grandpa and Grandma.” I was glad he understood that.
“Yes son, we have blessed them…I am glad you noticed that.” I paused and looked at him.
“I understand,” he said. He got the message…each of our three children did. I didn’t have to say, “I hope you honor and bless us someday.” He saw it.
Some years later, our daughter decorated her room with some of our old books. Her mother and I were in her room with her. “What’s this book, Sweetheart?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she said.
I opened it; it was, Owen On Forgiveness, a rare Puritan classic. John Owen was Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain in 1651. He was a powerful Christian leader. Later he turned down the invitation to move to the United States and become President of Harvard University. As I opened the book, a letter fell out that had been written to my daughter’s great grandmother from her great, great grandmother. The letter was dated August 4, 1899. My daughter’s great grandmother was 23 years old at the time she received this letter. The letter read:
I think that if your sainted namesake grandmother could tell me this morning which one of her treasured books to give you for a birthday present, she would say, “Let it be Owen on Forgiveness.” You see it was a gift to her from the one she loved best on earth and she prized it for that reason, and for its great doctrinal value also. I have enjoyed and benefitted by reading it, and I hope that you will find the same, and even greater benefit from this book.
May the prayers of our dear old grandmother for you, her last namesake, continue to bring blessings upon your life through all time and eternity. God bless you this day and forever, my precious child.
Your loving mother
August 4, 1899.
P.S. See on page 31 – Grandma’s testimony to the loving kindness of our God.”
After reading the letter, we turned to page 31 in the book and underlined were words on repentance and forgiveness and marginal notes in her hand writing, expressing her faith in Jesus. Now, six generations later, our daughter was also affected, and later, became a missionary to children in Central America.
The way to link generations in security and continuity is to relate them to a loving and kind heavenly Father. He also links us with His other spiritual children in a way that brings unity. In unity with one another and across generations, He commands a blessing upon us: life forevermore.
God is the Eternal Father. Natural fathers are given in order to reflect His love and care. Spiritual fathers are those who bring the same concerns of natural fatherhood into the spiritual realm. They produce spiritual children and provide spiritual food and protection. They lead their offspring to maturity.
The Apostle Paul was a father to many believers and churches. The other apostles were also. They not only produced spiritual fruit, but gave instruction, identity, and direction. Spiritual fatherhood is to Christians what natural fatherhood is to children.
Because of an institutional view of Christianity, spiritual families have been fractured. Many Christians have never known a spiritual father or they have become separated from them. Still others are angry at their spiritual fathers.
The local church is often more mixed up than a “Hollywood marriage” in terms of spiritual fatherhood. The failure to understand family has greatly affected the Church. How we often treat each other has been affected by the absence of fatherhood. We hire and fire pastors just like secular organizations hire and fire executives, and even more so.
Pastors often become cautious and cynical about how they relate to Christians. There is so much fragmentation that relationships become tentative, surface, and professional. Meanwhile, there is a lot of pain with spiritual fathers and children.
What is our hope? I believe we need to draw near to our Father in Heaven, and pray His Kingdom come into our lives. We need to honor natural fathers and pray that they will be turned to their God and their children. We need to pray for spiritual fatherhood that sincerely cares for God’s people; fathers who cannot be hired and fired.
If the family is the extension of fatherhood_where are we without fathers? Some say, “Better off.” I say, “In trouble.” No doubt many are without fathers, and God has been a Father to the fatherless. But some curses will not go away and some blessings will not come until we rediscover that God is our Father, not just our God. “Father, Thy will be done on earth.”
P.S. Please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving. At present, our needs are greater than our visible resources. We are trusting in God’s provision and direction.
Scripture Reference: Ephesians 3:14-15; Malachi 4:5-6; 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 John 1:1-4; John 14:1-11