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Posts Tagged ‘father’


It’s December.  It’s Christmastime.  The weather has changed, the final page of the calendar is open, and my thoughts center on the center of the holiday, the center of time, Jesus.

As I consider the heart of the gospel, namely a savior’s arrival, the Savior promised to all but also to you and me, my thoughts are occupied by Joseph, Mary’s husband, whom the fulfillment of God’s centuries-long awaited promise certainly placed in a disruptive, uncomfortable, even dangerous position.  Societies have expectations of their members, and Nazareth was no different.  An industrious man, making a living with his hands and skills, carrying hopes and dreams of a wife, a family, a life tends to be viewed positively by society, a contributor to the well-being of all.  He was man merely making his way in the midst of others equally poor and focused on surviving as Jewish people within the restraint and frequent oppression of a disinterested Roman government.

And then… without warning, his young wife-to-be, the gateway of his dreams, returns from a happy visit with extended family dramatically changed.  Apprehension, anxiety and joy mingling violently in her face and heart drown his thrill and anticipation of reunion.  She has already lived in an intimacy with God beyond any other woman in all creation, and it has caused her to gamble her entire being on God’s faithfulness and power; but Joseph knew nothing of her journey or her encounter with the angel or the Holy Spirit.  He only knew that this woman he was learning to love stood before him, evidence of sexual intimacy with another on display.   He was no doubt humiliated, betrayed, ashamed, angry, terrified and in despair.  The life and family he had imagined and worked toward appears now to be utterly scorned and ruined by the one to whom he pledged his heart and life and livelihood.

I can’t imagine the tumult churning in Joseph’s mind and heart.  All of his dreams were torn to pieces, and the wreckage of his life lay before him, awaiting his response.  Why?  had to be one of the questions on his lips.  Resentment, even rejection of the whole mess would be completely understandable; yet, he listened to God’s intervening voice.  Trust in these kinds of situations is so difficult and risky, yet Joseph received God’s encouragement, accepted Mary’s pregnancy as brought about by the Holy Spirit and chose to reject his fear and doubt.  He, too, risked his reputation, his living, his family’s safety and kept Mary as his wife, drinking deeply from the comfort and reassurance that God had poured into him through the angel.

I’m blown away.  I can’t pretend to understand the depths of Joseph’s warring emotions, the shock and disappointment at how his life had unfolded.  I hope so, but I don’t know whether I would have trusted God enough to embrace the insane path ahead.  And yet, in this moment, I can hear the Spirit nudging me to consider a different side.

For God’s promise to be fulfilled, a human boy had to be born to a virgin in Bethlehem, a virgin who descended from David.  But for God’s purpose to be fulfilled, that boy was also going to need to become a godly man, and it wouldn’t happen automatically.  He had to live a man’s life, and that meant:  learning masculinity, strength, kindness, generosity, courage and perseverance; discovering the gifts of laughter, humor, hard work, sleep, cold water on a hot day, a delicious meal; acquiring and honing the ability to reason, skills with his hands and discernment with his eyes, how to respond when he received what he wanted, how to respond when he was disappointed; working through what a godly man is to do with emotions of anger, sadness, disappointment, worry, grief, joy, love.  And betrayal.

I’m beginning to see it now.  It felt like a curse, like a future ruined, because his faith was in the events, the feelings of fulfillment of his own vision, the way things were expected to, supposed to happen.  But God needed a man to raise his son, and a man focused on his own designs and plans would never be able to carry the burden, the unimaginable weight of knowing he was teaching, raising, shaping the very character of God’s only son, even the promised deliverer.  God choosing Joseph for Jesus’ human father was an equal honor to that received by Mary as his mother.  One man and one woman, chosen once for all time, to participate in this culmination of God’s plan to rescue his imprisoned image-bearers.  I’m floored by the immensity of the honor of God’s choice.

God turns my gaze toward my own children, and I begin to grasp the point.  My own life has not unfolded as I planned or expected or even desired.  Fractures I didn’t want and directions I didn’t imagine crowd my history, yet he has chosen me to be their human father – to raise them, teach them how to live, how to follow him, how to respond to happiness and sadness, gifts and grief, love and pain.  I have had a couple of decades to train them and prepare them, to enjoy them and offer them myself, to introduce them to the loving father who made them through me and my wife, and to begin to teach them how to walk with him.

And in this moment, I know the day that seemed beyond distant will soon be today.  I will open the door for them to step through and begin their own story only to discover it has already begun, and that I have been playing a role a bit like Joseph’s.

Why me, Father?  I don’t really know, but it doesn’t really matter because the honor drowns my thoughts, preventing more questions.  Just grateful, I weep.

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Good times can be hard to release.

 

When crisis is absent, relationships are in sync, my health is good and finances are balanced, I can unconsciously decide to try to preserve that moment, that state.  Knowing God is a given, no maintenance required, but those pleasures must be protected.  So, even as I move away from the Lord, ironically I still expect, even feel entitled to, the pleasure and peace I enjoyed while with him.  While the possibility of stress and fear of discordant outcomes doesn’t seem significant in his presence, once I make my move, that perspective is quickly dispersed and the pressure begins building.

 

The truth is, beyond being futile, gripping my present so tightly harms my future.  If I resist God’s good work to grow me up in favor of staying put, I’ve again wrenched back control from his perfect will and begun managing the elements of my life to form my vision of a good future.  From his endless affection, Father still gives wonderful gifts to me, but I tend toward dismissing their power; enjoying the benefit but ignoring the source.  I suppose that could be a decent seven-word summary of idolatry.  I’d love to say I recognize what’s happening right away and quickly turn back, but it is only when I have traveled a few miles and been sufficiently disturbed by hazards that I realize the error – the repeated error – I’ve committed.  Somewhere along the way, those gifts became my reason and purpose.  With my smiling approval, they became my gods.

 

As my eyes shed their fog, shame and embarrassment pang; my foolishness is distressingly familiar, and I stare, incredulous that I could again voluntarily choose blindness.  Yet even this he redeems!  As I return to him much like the wayward son in Luke 15:17-20, understanding sprouts through the soil of my repentance.  I rediscover his heart and his character as he hugs me tightly, and after a terrible, lost moment, I hug him back.  He suffocates my fear with his love.  The healing from the new wounds will take longer, I know, but I feel no doubt it will come.

 

After several trips through this craggy trail of godless striving I’ve begun to see his intent.  God will always allow our brash interpretations and headstrong wills to take us away from his heart into struggle and suffering and pain – not to punish us, but rather to bring repentance, restoration and peace through letting reality burn away the dross of our foolishness.  And despite apprehension of the experience, I am grateful.  And I’m awed by the agonizing, deliberate restraint of a father who can remove the suffering, but for our sake does not, because he knows it will not last forever, that we will emerge more alive than ever before.  So he suffers with his children through the inevitable shock, accusations and desperate pleading until we collapse into his arms, finally surrendered.  He never takes offense or throws up his hands in exasperation.  His grace, the beautiful, pure grace of the only complete father for his children, never runs out.

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