The Irony of Father's Day

Sunday was Father’s Day, a time set aside to remember and celebrate all the good we see in fathers. There is something right and wholesome about this, yet I am jolted by a heartbreaking irony. So many men I work with have been poorly fathered, and so many dads I know feel they are poor fathers. Where is the disconnect with Father's Day? This is a long and convoluted story, but we can cut to the heart of it with the help of the Apostle Paul.

In speaking about the new life we have in Christ, he penned these striking words: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear leading again to slavery, but He gave us the Spirit of sonship, and by him we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). Here is the answer to the disconnect.

Anything good and wholesome we have seen in fathers, in our own fathers, comes from reflecting the true Father in heaven. But we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of the Father (Rom. 3:23). And with that fall, men have lost their primary sense of being sons of the heavenly Father and their central orientation for fathering. Hence all the stories of abandonment and abuse, all the tales of violent and silent fathers, all the confusion and stress of being a father today.

What is the way back? Here it is: only true sons can be true fathers

Every man experiences that loss of connection to the Father as one of fear and slavery to sin. Paul acknowledges the sinfulness of man but announces that this is no longer the story In which we must live. We have been given the Holy Spirit, whose primary job is to restore that feel of being beloved sons. How do we know this is happening? We start to sense God as Daddy (a good way to translate Abba). We realize that He delights to be called this and delights in our confidence in Him as Father. Bonding to Him as sons replaces fear, delight replaces slavery, and love starts to replace the lost places in our hearts. We start fathering as we have been fathered.

As for me, my own relationship with my father has been a difficult struggle over the years, and I too feel the mistakes I have made with my own children. Yet this weekend one of my daughters unexpectedly put her arm around me as we walked together. And the Father continues to teach me about walking as a beloved son. I am slowly learning to be a true son and a true father.

This is how the irony of Father’s Day becomes the glory of the Father. Only Jesus could do this.

And He has.

Postscript: The same basic process holds true for women, but that's a Mother's Day blog!

 

God Writes Straight With Crooked Lines

I read something years ago from C. S. Lewis that has stuck with me: God writes straight with crooked lines. It was his literary way of saying that God brings good out of evil. In the abstract I have long since accepted this deeply Biblical idea (see Gen. 50:20). But it's quite another thing to live it out. 

Recently I went to a wedding of some extended family. It was a chance to interact with relatives I seldom see. During one of the many conversations, an in-law began to describe the details of a tragic family situation involving substance abuse and divorce. It has left him angry and confused, caught in circumstances for which he was not responsible. I asked him, "Do you ever wonder how you ended up in such a story?" His response was an unqualified yes! 

It got me thinking about my own family of origin and some of the story lines in which I have found myself caught. Add to that the many stories I have listened to, stories of abandonment and abuse, stories of pain inflicted and grief endured. How did we end up in such stories? Of course, how we often handle our situations makes them worse. We compound it with our own sinful reactions and patterns. How do we get out of such a mess?

Right here is the glory of Jesus' message. It's not just for the offenses we commit. It's for all the ways we have been offended. The prayer He gave us forever ties those two together: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us." We are asked to walk the journey of accepting forgiveness for ourselves and then offering it to our offenders. It's never an easy journey, but if we choose to go there, something glorious happens.

We see God beginning to write the story of our lives, now straight-edged to His will, even though the lines of it are crooked, lines written by our sins and the sins we have endured. Our pain becomes our passion as our fallen stories get lifted up into God's redemptive story.

I see this so clearly in my own life. The soul-sickness that nearly destroyed me in my early years has become the drive to heal that soul-sickness in others. And the absence of mentors has continually compelled me into a life of mentoring. The crooked lines are writing something straight, a story tinged with glory. 

How can God write straight with the crooked lines of your story? Whatever story you have landed in, whatever mess you are sinking in, it is never beyond hope—or repair. That's the glory of Jesus.

Why We Need To Relax Harder, Not Work Harder

During my tenure as a high school track coach, there was one skill that seemed nearly impossible to teach to the sprinters. All of them began with the assumption that running as fast as you can meant pushing your legs as hard as possible. Nothing could be further from the truth. The human body moves at top speed when it is most relaxed. It may sound easy to do, but it took endless drills to teach them how. I wanted them to expend maximal effort in relaxing harder, not running harder. Even with all that preparation, most of them struggled to get the feel for it during an actual race. 

One day it struck me how apt a parallel this was to our life in Christ. I think all believers start out with the assumption that if we work really hard at it, that’s how we become good at being His obedient disciples. But nothing could be further from the truth. The way we follow Him best is by resting in His love (see John 15:1-9). The more we expend maximal effort there, the more we will become like Him, bearing much fruit for the Kingdom. We need to relax harder in His love, not work harder for Him. It may sound easy, but just like those sprinters, it can feel almost impossible at times. I got my own personal case study of this last week.

I woke up on Friday sensing that Jesus just wanted me to rest in His love that day. It was my day off anyway, so I felt that it would be something I could enter without much effort. Nothing could have been further from the truth. What the Lord was telling me was not so much an encouragement but a warning. For the next 24 hours I was hit repeatedly with anxiety about finances and ministry direction and then fear of failure over upcoming projects. I then struggled with critical and jealous thoughts toward others, finally overwhelmed with confusion. To rest in His love literally seemed impossible, until…

I woke up Saturday, opened my devotional book, and immediately saw this Scripture: “The Lord will quiet you with His love” (Zeph. 3:17). I was stunned. I can’t even find my way into His love at times, much less relax in it, but He promises to come and find me—and then quiet me, causing me to relax, like a child being held by his father. I think perhaps my struggle here is universal. We don't even know how to begin to rest in His love. He has to find us, coach us, and encourage us along the way. And He will.

For what is impossible with men is possible with God.

Even relaxing in His love.

 

Waiting: Frustration or Freedom?

I was at the grocery store last week, returning an avocado that spoiled. As I waited at the return counter, the woman on duty was busy speaking to one of the employees. I was there no more than thirty seconds when I began to feel impatient. After a minute of still being unnoticed, I suddenly left, grabbed a second avocado, and went speedily through an empty check out line to exchange them.

The same kind of thing happens to me when my computer is slow to pull up a new page, but now instead of thirty seconds, I get impatient immediately. Other examples are not too hard to recall: sitting at a long red light or finding out the flight is unexpectedly delayed. Fill in your own stories of waiting in frustration.

These occurrences are usually just blips in our day, but they reveal a deeply entrenched animosity toward waiting. We are incurably impatient. It is an affront to our seemingly important lives and daily agendas. We need to be moving quicker, meeting more deadlines, getting more stuff done.

Take it up one more notch to our perennial impatience with God. Why isn’t He answering our prayers more quickly? Why is He not working to take care of injustice and evil?

And then we open the Bible and read this: “For if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait patiently for it...while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ...Be patient then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.” (Rom. 8:25, Titus 2:13, James 5:7)

All throughout the Scriptures, we are being asked to wait on God and His coming Kingdom. It’s not a momentary injunction; it's a continual posture of the heart. But I want to suggest that this is not perpetual frustration—it's freedom. Here's what I mean:

  • Waiting for heaven frees us from compulsively scavenging for contentment here in this life. The life we long for isn’t here...but it’s coming.
  • Waiting increases our awareness of God’s presence and the beauty of trusting Him. It’s a taste of the lost life of Eden.
  • Waiting strengthens us to keep fighting evil in ourselves and our world. Jesus triumphed decisively over evil and the Evil One at the cross; we are now waiting for His return and final victory.

So the next time you find yourself fuming at a red light or stuck in a return line, maybe it's a chance to stop and trust—and remember heaven.

It's what we're all waiting for.