Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Month: March 2023

Abba! Father!

There are few words in our language that express as much emotional range as the word “Daddy”. On the lips of a child, it may express love, fear, panic, joy, anger, needs, sickness, or pain. We use it to express both intimacy and distance, respect and contempt, love and hate.

In Jewish culture their word for “father” was “abba” and expressed a similar range of feeling. It was used by both children and adults. It was one of the first words a child learned. 

It shouldn’t surprise us then that one of the primary biblical metaphors for God is that of a father. “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4.6)

The idea of God as a father originates in the Old Testament. Some twenty times he’s either called a father (fourteen times), compared to a father (four times), or he calls Israel his son (two times). The emphasis of this metaphor is upon God as the father of the nation of Israel. It’s not used to express a personal, individual relationship, but a corporate one.

God is our father because he created us. “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us?” (Malachi 2.10a) God is the father of Israel. “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn” (Exodus 4.22). God is the father of the king. “He will cry to Me, ‘You are my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation.’ I also shall make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89.26-27). 

As a father, God is first and foremost an authority figure. “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name” (Malachi 1.6). But as a father, he also shows tender compassion to his children. “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103.13-14). Because of this unique combination of authority and compassion, we see God as the one who forgives our sins. “‘Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a delightful child? Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him; therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31.20).

This picture of God as a father only deepens when we get to the New Testament. Here, Jesus refers to God as his father about 140 times, and God is presented as the father of believers about 50 times. The basic concepts are still there, but in a much fuller sense because of Jesus who revealed the Father in himself. “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1.18).

Jesus taught his disciples, and us, to pray to God our Father. He’s not a distant, unconcerned deity, but a loving father who cares for the needs of his children. It’s here in the New Testament, especially in prayer, that we see a much more personal and intimate view of God as our Father. “So do not be like [the pagans]; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name’” (Matthew 6.8-9). God knows what we need before we even ask, yet he still wants us to ask.

Praying to God as our Father teaches us dependence upon him. “Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world” (John 6.32-33). The bread of which Jesus spoke was himself and the eternal life he gave to us by giving himself on the cross. We depend upon our Father to provide all that we need, including life itself, both physical and spiritual.

But if we call God our Father, that imposes certain demands upon us as his children. If he’s our Father, then we must act like his children. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1.14-17). God’s children are holy and reverent, showing to the world around us what God-like character looks like.

God’s children also forgive in the same way as their Father. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6.12). If God has released us from our moral debt to him, we must also release others from their moral debt to us. 

The privilege of being children of God includes eternal hope but requires moral purity in the meantime. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are… everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3.1a, 3). 

That hope is part of our inheritance from our Father. “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 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!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8.14-17). 

Finally, to enter this Father-child relationship is a conscious choice each of us must make. It’s by faith that we become his children. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3.26-27).

Is God your Father?

The End of the Rope

We’ve all been there: at the end of the rope, without hope, and unable to cope. 

I recently read a blog suggesting that Christians should never be at the end of their ropes, and if they are it’s only because they’re selfish and stubborn, and they only use God as a last resort. 

My problem with that approach is women and men of faith in the Bible who were at the end of their ropes. Please note that when I say that they were at the end of their ropes, what I mean is that they were in hard places, struggling emotionally and perhaps even spiritually. They weren’t sure what options were available. They weren’t selfish and certainly didn’t look at God as a last resort. In that moment, they just weren’t sure what to do.

In 1 Kings 17 we read about two people who were at the ends of their respective ropes. First, we’re introduced to the prophet Elijah who cursed the land of Israel with a drought because of King Ahab’s sinfulness (v. 1). God sent him to the brook Cherith in the Jordan River valley. There the Lord fed him with a daily provision of bread, meat, and water (v. 2-6). Then the brook ran dry because of the drought (v 7). Foodwise, he was at the end of his rope. 

Meanwhile, 100 miles away in Zarephath, a Phoenician city on the Mediterranean coast, there was a widow with a young son (v. 10-12). They were also affected by the drought and had just enough flour and oil for one last meal. She was at the end of her rope. 

Two people at the end of their ropes. What happens next is that God brings them together. Imagine that: two people struggling, and God uses them to help one another. 

God sends Elijah to the widow so she can provide for him (v. 8-9). Think about it. He sends a hungry man to the home of a widow with no food. But the Lord, through Elijah, miraculously provides her with flour and oil that wouldn’t run out until the drought ended. (v. 13-16).

Two people at the end of their ropes, provided for by the God of grace and mercy. 

When we get to the end of the rope, there’s a knot that we can grab. That knot is the promise of God. God never deserts his people. “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1.5; Deuteronomy 31.6). This allows us to say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” (Psalm 118.6; Hebrews 13.6).

How God works it out is his business. He may directly intervene and solve the problem. He may send us a friend to help. He may delay so that we’ll develop trust. God’s business is deliverance. Our business is to trust, pray, and obey. 

When you’re at the end of the rope, with God there’s always hope. 

The End of Gratitude

No, I’m not talking about the cessation of gratitude. I’m talking about the result or outcome of being grateful.

What got me thinking about this was a quotation from motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy. He said, “Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.”

Hermit that I am, I’d never heard of Brian Tracy before running across this quotation. Somewhere on Tracy’s website he’s described as a “Best Selling Author and Professional Speaker” — the words were capitalized, so apparently, he views this a title, or perhaps he’s German. His website is all about business success. 

In an article about the “Principles of Self-Management” he says, “Everything you are or ever will be is entirely up to you.” 

Now I agree that all of us need to be accountable for our decisions, actions, and lives. However, I’ve learned that many things in life are entirely beyond my control. I can’t control some aspects of my health. I can’t control some aspects of my relationships. I can’t control how other treat me. In fact, I’ve often been helped simply by the good graces of others. Obviously, Tracy is the classic “self-made man” and encourages others to take the same approach.

I see his quotation on gratitude in much the same way. He views gratitude as a tool for reaching his goals and achieving success. The idea that gratitude is all about “bigger and better” is a worldly view, not a Biblical view. Solomon said, “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and turmoil with it” (Proverbs 15.16). The apostle Paul said, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6.8).  Gratitude says that I’m happy AND I don’t need more! The Lord may see fit to bless me with more, but if he doesn’t, that won’t change my level of happiness and gratitude.

In other words, the end of gratitude is not having more, doing more, being more. The end of gratitude is contentment.

Can you be happy right where you are?

A Daily Dose of Discipleship

Zig Ziglar, motivator extraordinaire, once said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Ziglar was right. All of us have important daily rituals and habits: bathing, brushing our teeth, checking our bank balance, catching up on email, reviewing our schedule, calling or texting children or parents or siblings, reading the newspaper or watching the news, counting calories, drinking so many glasses of water, etc. We all know that when we stop doing these things, bad habits and bad consequences follow.

What Ziglar says about motivation is also true of discipleship. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9.23). Following Jesus is a daily event. Discipleship demands daily commitment, daily service, daily attitude adjustments, daily goals, daily decisions. 

That means there’s no moment in your day when you’re not a disciple of Jesus. Every action, every relationship, every decision, every word, and everything you do is filtered through the lens of your relationship to Jesus.

When you’re at work, you’re a disciple of Jesus. Whether you’re the CEO, an accountant, an engineer, in HR or marketing, or if you’re making minimum wage flipping burgers, you’re a disciple. Whether you’re dealing with the boss, your coworkers, or your clients, you’re a disciple of Jesus.

When you’re at home, you’re a disciple of Jesus. Whether you’re dealing with your spouse, your children, your siblings, your parents or grandparents, or even your next-door neighbors, you’re a disciple of Jesus. Every day, your relationship to Jesus determines how you treat your family.

When you’re on vacation or on your day off, you’re a disciple of Jesus. If you’re traveling, you’re a disciple. If you’re puttering around the house, you’re a disciple. If you’re by yourself away from the noise and distraction of your normal routine, you’re a disciple. If you’re surrounded by ten thousand other people, you’re a disciple.

All of this means that every day we should remind ourselves that we’ve made a lifelong commitment to the Lord Jesus. It also means that every day we follow through on that commitment. We need a daily dose of discipleship.


Many of us are required to have an ID badge or tag or card to get into our workplace. It’s a security measure. It the employer’s way of saying,” I need to know that you are who you claim to be. I need to know that you belong here.” So, in our day-to-day affairs we understand the importance of these credentials.

Let’s apply this to our public worship. What if you needed an ID to enter public worship. What if the Lord wanted each of us to prove to him every Sunday that we are, in fact, his people. What if God required each of us to prove that we belong in a sacred assembly. What kind of ID do you think would work?

Psalm 15 provides at least a partial answer. Some scholars view it as an “entrance liturgy”, which means that it may have been used in Israel’s public worship when people arrived at the temple for national festivals. The worshipper would approach a priest or gatekeeper with a request to enter, and the priest would reply with the requirements of entry.

In Psalm 15, the entrance question is stated in verse 1: “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?” 

Then the priest or gatekeeper would reply in verse 2: “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart.” 

In fact, the remaining three verses of Psalm 15 elaborate on verse 2. They describe the character of the citizen of Zion, the one who belongs in the Lord’s assembly.

What Psalm 15 is saying is that the credentials for a worshipper of God – the ID badge, if you will – is his or her godly life. This in no way means that our good works and good character have merited a place for us in God’s assembly. The very fact that God allows and encourages us to worship him is an act of grace. But it’s still sobering to think that our character either qualifies us for worship or disqualifies us. 

This week, work on your credentials. Are you ready to worship?