A father’s love

a-fathers-love

I had an interesting conversation with my 6 year-old son this evening. He has been ‘disengaged’ at school and told me that school is boring and he just wants to play with his Lego. We talked about how learning new stuff is fun and that being able to count is useful. I explained that all he has to do is try to learn one new thing each day and before long with be able to count to 100 and read stories for himself. My point was that school seemed boring because that’s what he expected of it.

All through this conversation I could see both my adult self and me as a child of similar age staring out the window feeling bored, actively disengaged from what I should be doing. It is a familiar feeling and odd to hear myself giving the very advice I should act upon many days at work.

My wee boy is a reflection of myself. He is like me in many more ways than he knows. It worries me that he may carry my own weaknesses on into another generation.

I can be stubborn and proud. I’m irrational when angry or experiencing strong emotions. What I told my wee guy this evening is that he is a lovely, inspiring person when he is happy, someone people really like. It’s harder to accept this as true of me too. He has always been a cuddly kid, I’m learning to return the affection.

While boundaries and discipline are necessary, I’m discovering that a better way of being heard by mini-me is to give him a cuddle, show him he is loved first, then allow conversation to follow. Letting him tell me what is upsetting him has a far deeper effect than a battle of wills in which I tell him what I think is wrong – our two versions of what the problem is are never the same. Boundaries exist, discipline will occur, but the first need is for this boy to know his father’s unconditional love.

This is what I also long for when struggling with my own strong emotions. To be held by a Father and assured that I’m loved. To know that within the hurt I’m not actually alone, my Father is walking alongside me even in the mess of my life.

for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. (John 16:27 ESV)

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
(Isaiah 43:1 ESV)

Outwardly, being held by God and told I am loved looks different to me cuddling my son. The inner dynamic is much the same. I grow older, get grey and look like an adult but have the same need of love as a child.

A few more years under my belt means the path of consequences and discipline is longer and maybe rougher. Yet what I’m only slowly learning as a parent, God has been doing for me all my life – responding in love first, before the discipline.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:8 ESV)

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
(Hebrews 12:6 ESV)


Image: iStock

A Sunday prayer

God,
you are love itself!
You have shown yourself to us
in so many ways,
yet all of them tell us of creative love,
that never changes.
Love which in the beginning
created the universe,
and brought mankind out of the earth
to live in glorious freedom!
Love which was crucified,
yet rises
with every generation
bringing new promises for the future!
Love which meets our needs
and gives us hope
through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

By Alan Gaunt


Credit: Alan Gaunt, New Prayers for Worship. 1972 John Paul the Preacher’s Press. ISBN 0-903805-04-9
Image: iStock

The beautiful people


I have just discovered that yesterday (NZ)/today (USA) is/was World Down Syndrome Day.

As a teenager I attended school with two classmates (in a class of 27 students) who were Down Syndrome. Despite my typically teenagerish bad attitudes initially, I grew to greatly appreciate these students and in retrospect realize I learned a vast amount from them about compassion, teamwork, how to help others, and that people are of much more importance than achievements. I am delighted to be able to add a small voice of encouragement and support for folks with Down Syndrome.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has made a statement about world Down-Syndrome day, here is an excerpt:

For too long, persons with Down syndrome, including children, have been left on the margins of society. In many countries, they continue to face stigma and discrimination as well as legal, attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their participation in their communities.

He finishes by saying:

On this day, let us reaffirm that persons with Down syndrome are entitled to the full and effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Let us each do our part to enable children and persons with Down syndrome to participate fully in the development and life of their societies on an equal basis with others. Let us build an inclusive society for all.

I have highlighted a statement which is very important. The most important human right which needs to be upheld for people with Down’s Syndrome is the right to life – spelled out in Article 10 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

Article 10 – Right to life

States Parties reaffirm that every human being has the inherent right to life and shall take all necessary measures to ensure its effective enjoyment by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.

New Zealand (and the United States) have signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I consider this of huge importance in the face of a concerted effort by ‘health providers’, atheists and liberalists to eliminate any Down Syndrome babies detected prior to birth. On one hand we claim to uphold the rights of people with ‘disabilities’ (in our view), yet consider inconvenience for families and mothers to be of more significance than a person’s right to live. In the view of some, a baby does not even have the right to be considered a person, so if a newborn will be inconvenient they could theoretically be disposed of! (OK, that is another issue – one which I fully intend to discuss at length in future).

It is true that raising any child who is different is a lot of work, but our selfishness is not a reason to become evil and deny life to such people. Let us love people first and then worry about achieving other goals (I am preaching to myself here).


Photo of happy boy: iStock

Love in pain

Recently I have been a bit stuck for what I should be writing about. There are some topics I’d like to address, but I’ve felt as though this is not the correct time for me to venture my as yet partially-formed thoughts on certain issues.

Then this morning while my son trashed our house and I enjoyed a cup of tea, God reminded me that the greatest thing I can do is to know Him, to meditate upon the perfections of Christ and to share the glory of this with you.

Perhaps the most obvious of Christ’s perfections is his love. I want to consider the love of Jesus even in His pain.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
(John 13:1-5 ESV)

Jesus loved His disciples not only through many weary miles of ministry on dusty roads, He loved them through their betrayals and in His deepest times of agony. He loved them to the end.

At this time when He knew His betrayer had ‘gone over to the dark side’ and He knew that His disciples would all scatter and run from Him, Jesus continues to love. He does not retreat into being wrapped up in His own trials and misery, He does the opposite. Laying aside the clothing of a man, Jesus takes the place of a servant and voluntarily undertakes the most demeaning of tasks.

The act of washing feet introduces Christ’s final discourse to His disciples. Jesus has much to communicate to them, but the overall message is “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). The ultimate example of His love is yet to come, this command is given knowing that He indeed will not shrink back, that He will love them to the end.

Jesus is fully God. He is also fully man. This means that the pain of following through on what love required hurt Him every bit as much as it would hurt me. I have no grounds to dismiss what Jesus endured as being impossible for me because I am not God – He experienced the pain of it just as much as I would. In that pain He continued to love. Through pain Jesus made good His promises. In agony He forgave. While being tortured He refused to call upon angels to take the easy way out.

When I am in pain you see me at my worst. I will be irritable, short tempered, selfish, unkind to others, refuse to forsake comfort, impatient and withdrawn. What I will not be is loving.

This is sin.

It is dishonouring to Jesus.

Such behaviour reveals my lack of trust in God.

Paul proved that it is possible for a man to love through pain (2 Corinthians 4:7-18), the cost is high but the gain to everyone is beyond our usual ability to measure things:

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:11 ESV)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)

The little I can do

As thousands of ants can move huge amounts of leaves despite each individual’s small size, surely the Body of Christ each loving their neighbour can do God’s will on Earth as it is in heaven.

Leaf-cutter ant - Acromyrmex octospinosus

In my job at the Poisons Centre, I recently received a call from a person who was very distraught and sincerely seeking help, but the situation was outside both my area of expertise and also my role so all I could do was to give some cautionary advice and encourage her to contact one of several agencies that may be able to help her. It was the middle of the night so the options were limited, but she did seem a little calmer by the end of the call and thanked me for my help. “What help?” I thought to myself, feeling that I had been next to useless in giving her the sort of help she really needed. Though I suppose sometimes just having a calm voice offer a few more options is better than nothing.

There are so many times I have encountered situations in which I felt powerless to be really useful. Either I lacked the training, skill, tools or resources to be of much help.

But recently I was in the opposite situation – I was the one needing help. Having already sought professional help from experts, who did I then turn to? The person I sought out is someone I have known for a while now, and has one primary attribute that the professionals lacked: he is passionately God-focused.

At that particular time what I needed was to chat with a friend who would consistently keep pointing me to Jesus Christ. We yarned about all sorts of stuff, the overall message I went home with was; God is in control. The help I had already received from other experts was transformed as a friend faithfully gave of what he had.

The world around us has some massive needs – right now 10 million people in East Africa are facing drought and possible starvation. How do we fix that?

The Burma Army continues to enslave, rape and slaughter ethnic peoples in their own nation. Is there even the will to fix that?

How often I see the needs of the world around me, consider the puny contribution I could make towards those needs and end up thinking, “It wouldn’t make any difference anyway.” Even if I gave my entire income and the remaining years of my life to serve the needs of the world it would not make a noticeable difference. But is it my role to make a difference? It is God who is in control. Our job is to love, on a small scale maybe – but if multiplied…

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
(Galatians 5:13-14 ESV)

Can we truly love our neighbours, and in so doing be pointing people to Christ? In words and deeds acting in love?

As thousands of ants can move huge amounts of leaves despite each individual’s small size, surely the Body of Christ each loving their neighbour can do God’s will on Earth as it is in heaven.

Gifts I have noticed this week:

486) An hour relaxing at the library.
487) A friend who will take time to listen when time is what he has least of.
488) Happy, noisy children waking me up.
489) Psalm 139:12
490) Praying for my kids
491) Good books to read.
492) Bacon!
493) This reminder from John Piper: Beware of presuming on the strength of youth. “Even young men shall stumble and fall” (Isaiah 40:30). [even if I’m not so young any more!].
494) Eagerly looking for dawn when working night shift (2 Samuel 23:4).
495) Reminder to look through my circumstances to see God.
496) That sometimes simply doing my duty is enough.
497) Pen and paper, helping me to think and unload.
498) Eyesight – so fragile, so beautiful.
499) Clock ticking.
500) God’s strength (Isaiah 40:30)


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Image of leafcutter ant: iStockPhoto

Pray for your kids – love

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.(Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV)

That they walk in love, as Christ loved us.

Can I pray for my beloved children to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us – a sacrifice to God?

Is my love for my kids, and my love for Christ, true and pure enough to pray for them to walk in love as Christ did? I want to pray this prayer sincerely, so I must again pray for truth in my inmost being in order to honestly ask God to do this.


Download the prayer prompts:

31 Days of Prayer; Children
Image of heart on sand: iStockphoto

A humble friend of Jesus

What would it be like to have an intimate friendship with Jesus? I have been pondering this lately and can’t get away from what Jesus said  to His disciples:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17 ESV)

The core of what Jesus is saying is that His friends love one another and bear the fruit of the ‘upside-down’ kingdom of God.

If I want to deepen my friendship with Jesus I will walk in love. That sounds wonderfully easy, just be kind and loving. And if I was kind and loving by nature it would be easy. But I am not and it isn’t.

I am sinful by nature and despite  being grafted into the life-giving vine, I’m still wild and need pruning in order to bear kingdom fruit (Romans 11:17, John 15:1-2). Love is not my natural inclination. Besides, God’s definition of love is a lot higher than the world’s.

The friends of Jesus love their enemies, have no fear for their lives, are humble as children are, daily deny themselves, are not anxious, hope in all things and endure all things. That is not what I am like by nature, I need God’s Spirit to create this fruit in my life. (See Matthew 5:44, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:4, Luke 9:23, Luke 12:22, and 1 Corinthians 13:4–7).

Fortunately Jesus knew His disciples well, knows human nature well, knows me well and knows you. He knows that we are not already holy, He requires of us to simply begin the journey and humbly entrust all we are into His hands. If I do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Jesus, He will make the fruit grow.

It is good for me to keep reminding myself what Jesus expects of His friends, that way it is no surprise when He demands these things of me. I am better prepared then to humbly walk with Him rather than resisting and sinfully going my own way – tearing friendship apart.


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Image of Tibetian friends: Moosa_Kahn

Celebrating beauty

Today is my wife’s birthday.

In our family we use birthdays to celebrate the person who is entering another year of life. I love to celebrate Heather, she is a wonderful person and blesses our lives far more than she knows. She is beautiful, to look at and to live with. The sort of beauty that gets better with age rather than fading or deteriorating. Beauty that God has given her, not a glossy veneer painted on to cover flaws.

We all have our flaws in this family. Each of us stumbles and makes life a bit rough for the others from time to time. The grace which makes it all work out comes from Christ.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:22-25 ESV)

Our biggest blessing is that God deals directly with each of us, reminding us that “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” and we “were straying like sheep”, it is by His grace that we can live together without sin ravaging us like wolves.

When room is made for grace, the beauty of Christ is able to shine through as we hold to his word and to Him who is our life ( Philippians 2:15-16).

My wife shines in this way, she doesn’t see it very well, but her gentle spirit and humble serving reveal the beauty of her Saviour. Her smile is the delight of my days. I love our evening yarns over cups of tea. To her husband and children she is very precious, and I know that to God she is also.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV)


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Fear and faith

fear-and-faith

While I do a very imperfect job of it, I am a Dad and I love each of my children very, very much. My biggest fear is that something bad might happen to them – if anything bad is to happen to my family I would prefer it to be me who suffers rather than my wife or children. When I pray for my kids at night I ask Jesus to hold them close and keep them safe, knowing full well that in fact bad things do happen to Christians and their kids just as bad things happen to other people (see Luke 13:1-5).

In praying for God to keep my kids safe, my primary thought is that He will give them the faith to trust Him and keep that faith intact no matter what happens. I try not to think about the things that could happen to them, partly because it is a pointless, anxiety-producing exercise and also because God tells us not to worry ourselves about ‘what-ifs’ (Matthew 6:34). A more grey area is anxiety regarding how I might respond to a tragedy or suffering in my family – in part such anxiety is about something that may never happen, but it also relates to how deeply rooted my faith in Jesus and God’s goodness is – will my faith survive being tested?

Having been a Christian for over twenty years, my faith has been tested in various ways over that time but not by anything really major. I very much feel like the father asking Jesus to heal his child:

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24 ESV)

I believe, Jesus help my unbelief. In fact, I have felt this deeply in praying for my daughter to be healed of severe ezcema – I know Jesus has the power to heal her, yet also know that mostly healing comes through medicines and doctors and often people just have to endure sickness in this fallen world. Am I praying with faith when thinking like this?

When I worry about the safety of my children, a child who comes to mind readily is little Aisling Symes who died tragically a year ago, leaving a devastated family grieving her loss while clinging to faith in Christ. I’m sure they have struggled much over the past year, but their faith and the support of their church last October was inspiring to me and still helps me to be mindful of where my trust needs to be.

A couple of extracts of what was said by Pastor Russell Watts of Ranui Baptist Church in Auckland at the funeral of Aisling Symes on October 16, 2009:

“Last week we searched day and night, we posted flyers, we prayed for Aisling, for the family, for the police, for the nation to find her.
On Monday night we were still praying here in the church and many other churches joined us in prayer for her safe return. While God speaks to prophets about tragedies or impending disasters, to most of us He gives words of encouragement or comfort or words that will build character. And so, motivated by hope and love, we really felt that she was safe and that God was going to return her to Alan and Angela. When you love you hope, when you want to put practical legs on hope you pray, and often a miracle will result.

By this time Aisling had been in heaven for a long time, by our standards. And yet, I believe that God took those prayers which we prayed too late, and He stored them up and poured out His help in different ways. The Bible says that He treasures the tears of every believer. We did not get the answer to prayer that we really wanted; it was already too late, a tragic accident had taken place. But I know God still responded with compassion to our tearful pleas.”

“When you love, you hope, when you want to put practical legs on hope you pray,” this may seem odd to an action-oriented, make-it-happen-yourself type of society, but actually goes straight to the core of where the power to make things happen lies – with God, not us. Only God knows what the real purpose was in taking Aisling home so soon was, but her disappearance moved this nation to pray and helped many of us to see more clearly what is truly valuable:

“In a hundred years’ time that great house we built will be crumbling and decaying, that career we worked so hard at will not matter to anyone anymore, that sporting trophy or medal or money in the bank that we accumulated just won’t hold any significance to anyone anymore.

Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, said all that stuff would pass. Those things aren’t eternal but these three qualities will remain: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.
I would suggest to you that in those intense seven days of prayer, of searching and supporting, that you did something better, and bigger, than win a gold medal or gain world recognition. You displayed three qualities that really matter, three qualities that really count, three values that are of eternal significance – faith, hope and love.”

(Quoted with permission from an article featured in the November 2009 issue of the NZ Baptist newspaper.)

I have read  1 Corinthians 13:12 many times and have read commentaries about this verse, but this is by far the best and most vivid summary of the meaning and application all integrated in one that I’ve ever encountered. Love, hope and faith all in action as tearful, even fearful people pray desperately for God to have mercy on a little girl.

What I am talking about here is not some abstract, theoretical ideal of how faith should work – many of us prayed for Aisling to be found, her family and church grieve to this day, and so the reminder that the love, prayer and support given to them, the hope in Christ that she is right now in God’s loving arms, and the faith behind all of these – this is real. When I fear for my children, I am grateful for the reminder that faith, hope and love are what counts for eternity.

Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.
(Mark 5:36 ESV)

God bless you Aisling.

Love until it hurts

Mother Teresa

I have been thinking about the “Why?” question a bit lately: Why must the innocent suffer? Why is so little done to protect those innocent ones? Why do the guilty not suffer? Then, by implication, why am I not suffering?

There are big theological answers to these questions, such as God does all things for His glory, suffering and all. Judgment will come and the guilty will be punished and those who repent and believe in Jesus Christ will be saved.

But those are not the sort of answers I am seeking. The question I am really asking is, “when someone in my life is suffering and I am not, why have I been given the undeserved blessing of health and wellbeing?” What is my responsibility with the fullness of life I have been given? Further, am I going to fulfill my responsibilities? Will I give what it is that others need from me, rather than just giving the left-over bits of my life that are the equivalent to spare change?

What is my responsibility toward those who are suffering – am I obliged to help everyone? The story Jesus told about the good Samaritan touches this topic; a man helps a total stranger from a group of people he would never normally associate with (Luke 10:25-37).  Yet even in this story the issue is simplified by physical proximity (the injured man was lying beside the road) and in-your-face knowledge of the man’s need (the Levite and priest both saw him and chose to look the other way). What about the people we hear about or see on the news?

It seems to me that my obligation before God is based upon knowledge and ability to respond, both of which are limited. My knowledge is limited, but if I am aware of a need, I should respond and try to alleviate that need (see James 4:17). My ability to respond to all the needs I am aware of is also limited, I cannot sponsor every child I see advertised as needing sponsorship, I cannot heal the sick people, feed the starving or stop child abuse. But I can sponsor one child, I can at least care for someone I know who is sick even if I cannot heal them, and maybe by being supportive to one struggling family I can help reduce the risk to a child.

I think that Paul’s words to the Corinthian church also apply here:

For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
(2 Corinthians 8:12 ESV)

Yet we are called to give sacrificially, as the story of the widow’s offering shows (Mark 12:41-44). Such sacrificial giving goes way beyond money, as the superlative modern example of compassion liked to say:

“Love until it hurts.”
(Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

I think this begins to move me in a constructive direction regarding my response to suffering. Regarding evil, I must leave that to God because human justice is, at best, flawed ( Romans 12:19). As to why I am not currently suffering – mercy and grace are the only reasons I can think of ( Luke 13:1-5). Maybe I too will suffer in my life, in the meantime I think I also am called to love until it hurts.

The question that remains is, will I?

Sorry about all the questions, I think these are things we should ask ourselves more often than we generally do, that’s why I am posting them for all to ponder.


Image of Mother Teresa: Wikimedia Commons