Thursday, August 4, 2011

Abba! Father!

Next week I will go back to blogging from the Who I Am in Christ statements, but this week I want to share some more thoughts on what it means to be children of God.

1 John 3:1 says, "See how great a love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are!"

Incredible.  Simply incredible...that sinners would be smuggled out of the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13), then adopted into God's family (Ephesians 1:5), and even counted as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).  All by the Father's gracious heart of love!

To the abandoned, this means family.  To the abused, this means safety.  To the fearful, this means security.  To the anxious, this means serenity.  To the rejected, this means belonging.  To the aimless, this means purpose.  To the addicted, this means hope and freedom.  And to all of us, this means new life.

Zephaniah 3:17 paints the vivid picture of a strong, valiant God who is also a victorious warrior, coming home from battle to dote on his kids.  He plays with them, heartily laughing and singing.  He cheers them on in their life challenges.  And He gently, tenderly calms and soothes them, bringing comfort, peace and rest.

What a beautiful portrait of our heavenly Abba!  Daddy!  And the only expectation of the child in this scenario is to accept this Daddy-child relationship as real and to rest in the reality and trueness of it.  For some, this is not easy at all, for in their thinking the term "father" or "dad" drags with it a load of explosive baggage.  There is, therefore, a process of grace and healing that God Himself must activate before the child of God can let go of that baggage and take the hand of his or her heavenly Dad instead.

Our God is so patient, isn't He?

Though there is no hurry or rushing with God, and His primary agenda is always that we trust in His character of gracious love as well as His faithful, truthful promises, there is more.

The Lord desires our love in return.  No, He doesn't need it to be complete; that would make Him like the creation rather than the Creator.  But He does request it...even requires it...of His children.

For some of you reading this blog, a shift just took place in your mind.  Involuntarily you moved from a place of grace to one of law, of duty, of performance, of jumping through religious hoops to maintain God's favor...of subtly thinking, "Oh, now I get it.  God just changed the rules.  He acts like Mr. Nice Guy to bring us into His family, but once we're "in"...oh better toe the line!"

Honestly, that is not what we are talking about at all. Not even close.  Maybe an illustration will help.

My wife, Shirley, and I are raising four teenagers (well, actually one just turned 20 a month ago).  Anyway, we love our kids deeply and would do anything for them.  But we also are seeking to help them develop godly character and wisdom so they can faithfully represent Christ and live responsible lives in this world.  Part of their place in our family involves doing chores around the house, treating their siblings (and parents!) with respect, and when they are not at home obeying the laws of the land and seeking to do good.  When we tell them to do walk the dog or come home by a certain hour...we expect them to do what they are told.  We expect them to obey.

This obedience does not grant them an upgraded membership in our family, nor does it purchase a guarantee that we will love them for another day.  Being loved members of our family is a "given."  But they do communicate to us as parents their love and respect for us by doing what they are told, even as the assigning of these expectations expresses our love for them by serving to help mold and forge godly character in them.  And they discover that obedience brings greater freedom; disobedience brings about a cutting back of freedom.

In Romans 8:15 (echoed in Galatians 4:6), it reads:  "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba!  Father!'"  As the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are God's kids (v. 16), there is an "Abba!" element to that relationship and a "Father!" element as well.  The cry of "Abba!" speaks of God's tender love and affection and comfort and care.  The "Father" speaks of His authority and worthiness to receive our worship, respect, reverence and obedience (see 1 Peter 1:17).

Rather than our spiritual childhood being a place of entitlement (as too often our American culture fosters in a far-too-lengthy adolescence), it is a place of empowerment.  "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance," 1 Peter 1:14 tells us.  Indeed, we are to be holy as God is holy (v. 15,16), not doing what we just want and think will be fun, but doing what God says is right and good.

Obedience is not a dirty word in the world of grace.  Not at all.  It is part and parcel with being children of much as is the acceptance that we enjoy in Christ.  Let me explain.

If the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all we have and to love others with all we are (Matthew 22:37-39), how do we show that love?  Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).  Pretty straightforward, isn't it?

We show that we love God by obeying Him.  But that kind of love is not a drudging, grudging, grin and bear it, dry devotion to duty.  It is doing what God says to do out of a deep love and respect for Him.

Let me change metaphors for just a moment and give one final illustration.

Imagine a college football coach who has been around for decades.  He is a winner and highly respected.  Being a Penn State grad, I can't help but think of Joe Pa (Joe Paterno).  The guy loves his players and would die for them.  He spends endless hours getting to know them, helping them work through the struggles in their lives, urging them on to academic excellence.  They are far more than football players to him.  They are human beings.  I imagine quite a few of them he grows to love like sons.  Picture Joe telling his players that they are going to practice late one day because they have a really tough opponent coming up...or his asking them to go visit kids in a local cancer ward on a Sunday afternoon...or even doing extra laps for being late for practice.

It is unimaginable for those players to say, "Naah, I don't think so.  What have you ever done for me?  I'm outta here."

I think you get the point.  Joe Paterno's love is far from perfect, but God's love is perfect, shown to us through Christ's shed blood and death on the cross as payment for our sins.  Such sacrificial love on the part of God through Christ for us ought to generate such a deep love, devotion, gratefulness and respect for Him that the most (super)natural response is to show love to Him back by obedience.

1 John 5:3 sums this up beautifully:  "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome."

Disobedience is burdensome.  Rebellion is burdensome.  Self-centeredness is burdensome.  But obeying God in His power out of love for Him is not burdensome.  It is exactly what we were made for.

So, go ahead and crawl up in Abba's lap and let Him love on you.  He yearns for that closeness with you and you (and I!) need it desperately.  But when, as your Father, He tells you it's time to get up and visit a sick neighbor or show love to an unlovable spouse or spend time with a really obnoxious it!  You will experience an "invasion" of the love of God into your soul like you had never imagined.

"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.  These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full."   -the words of Jesus (John 15:10,11).

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