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God as Our Father

With this installment of the series, Relating to God, we next consider how God intervenes in our lives to promote connection with us. Are you aware of his efforts? Ever held the door for someone at the mall and they’re so busy they don’t notice? It’s never good to be oblivious to God.

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We’re in the third on a series called Relating to God. And this third one is called God As Our Father.

Last week we did the second in our series on Relating to God. And we saw how our physical life, as children, affects our relationship with God, as adults. Today we’re going to talk about how God responds to us in that series – how God is our Father.

You’ll remember that we talked about the baby in the crib and how human babies have a need, and then when that need gets to a certain level, they start crying, and then the parents respond and take care of the needs, and then the baby re-regulates and gets satisfied, then, after a while, they have a need, and they cry, and the parents respond. So this cycle continues over and over and over again, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out through the first year of life. Babies learn, if they’re taken care of consistently, that their parents love them, that they’re going to take care of them, and they develop a positive attitude about themselves and the world around them.

At LifeResource Ministries, we talk about how God loves us, and God’s relationship to us, and all that, like the whole church does, but we talk about it in a slightly different way. We connect that with what actually happens in life and how things really work – things that God designed and that are mentioned in the Bible, but we’ve never thought about them that way.

So what I would like to do today – when we look at that picture about how human babies respond to their parents – we want to think about how that is the model for how God deals with people of every age, and that He is our Father. There is a reason why He says that. We can go look at what happens to a baby in a crib and we can understand how God takes care of us today – how He meets our needs.

I thought of seven things that God does for us in order to build a relationship with us – in order that we can trust Him. Do you see the benefit of looking at what happens to us as children? How that affects, or impacts, or connects to our spiritual life with God?

Well, the first thing I thought of is Christ’s sacrifice. Let’s look in John 12:32. I love to quote this scripture. If I could quote it in every sermon I give, I would. Jesus said:

John 12:32 – And I, when I am lifted up from the earth – on the stake – will draw all people to Myself. So what’s the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice? Is that a byproduct or is that the main goal? That’s the main goal. Most of us would say, “To pay for our sins.” That’s why – to draw us to Him. Right? Our sins separate us from God.

Now, when you give a sermon or speech, you’re always supposed to leave your strongest point for last. And this is the strongest point, but it doesn’t work to leave it for last, because everything begins with this in Christian life.

Let’s amplify that a little bit by looking at Romans 5, verses 6 through 10. Paul said:

Romans 5:6-10 – For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person, one would dare even to die, but God shows His love for us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For, if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more now, that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.

A lot of people think that they are saved by Christ’s death. But that isn’t what it says here, is it? It says that we’re going to be saved by His life. How is that true? Well, there are two phases of salvation – reconciliation, or justification – that’s the first one, right? That happens by Christ’s death. And then what is the second part? Well, it’s sanctification, right? Who does that? The living Jesus Christ does that every day, does He not? He’s the captain of our salvation. He’s the One that’s actively involved with us. And He’s preparing us, sanctifying us, perfecting us so that we can be in God’s family.

God is like the father who takes care of the baby in the crib. And He gives us what we need the most. We saw, in the first part of this series, that when babies cry, to them, they’re in a life or death situation. In fact, to us, they should be as well. They don’t get time, so they don’t understand, “I’ll change your diaper after I put I this load of laundry.” “It’s got to be right now or I’m unhappy.” And, if you didn’t change a baby, eventually, it would kill it. If you didn’t feed a baby, eventually, it would die. If you didn’t nurture and love a baby and give it affection, babies have died from lack of that. So everything that a baby cries about, when it’s little, is essentially life-threatening to them.

If God doesn’t forgive our sins, that’s life-threatening to us, isn’t it? So God gives us the stuff that we need. He forgives us our sins every day. He provides us the things that we have to have – every day – over and over. And that is the greatest thing that He does, because, if we can’t get past the record of our own sins, then nothing else is necessary. Do we understand that? If we do, then we will be drawn to God by that great act that He performed for us. And we will know that we are loved and that we are worth God’s time.

We think about the salvation plan and the holy days, and we think about all the things God does for us – and that’s what we’re supposed to focus on – but what God focuses on is us! We’re what it is all about to Him. We’re His children. We can know that we are the focus of His attention. We are the apples of His eye. We are why He does what He does. And we can have trust in that – that He’s going to take care of us.

There’s been a lady, who came to see me, and she came to see me for about a year. All her life she was told by her parents that everything was her fault – that she was a mean, bad kid. She was adopted, so she doesn’t know who her bio-parents are. She watched her dad try to strangle her mother on the kitchen floor when she was four years old. They came into some money when she was a young teenager, and they had a family discussion – would they want to spend the money on remodeling the kitchen or have a swimming pool? Mom wanted the kitchen and the daughter wanted the pool. So he spent the money on the swimming pool. And the mother, who is in her eighties now, has never let her forget that. She was just a little kid. She just expressed what she wanted. And to spite his wife, he put in the pool. The pool is now full of junk. So she’s had a really hard time of it.

She’s the only person – ever – in her family – on either side – that has gone to college. She has a master’s degree in nursing. She’s a research nurse – very bright, very competent, very sincere, very kindhearted. How does that happen? I don’t know, but she is. Some people come into my office with really high walls. It’s very hard for them to be open and transparent – just can’t let them down. From the beginning, she’s been like an open book. She’s poured her heart out.

She was telling me that she got criticized a lot at work because she wouldn’t play the political game. Her boss was telling her that she needs to play the game and was kind of threatening. I said, “What is your boss like?” She said, “Well, she’s a total deceiver and a manipulator.” I said, “So she’s really telling you that you just need to be more like her, right?” She said, “I guess.” She said, “You know, I’m just so confused. I think something must be really wrong with me, because everybody has told me that I’m bad. It’s my fault and I can’t do anything right all my life.” I said, “So, how do you think I feel toward you?” She said, “You think I’m never going to get better.” I said, “Sorry, try again.” “Well, I make you feel like you’re not a good therapist.” I said, “Nope, not that.” She said, “Well, you do try to encourage me.” And I said, “Why do you think I do that?” “Well, you want me to think that I’m okay.” “So, you mean, that you want me to think that you’re okay when I know that there’s really something seriously wrong with you. Nope that’s not it.” She said, “You care about me?” I said, “Yes, I do, but it’s way more than that. All these sharks that you work with, they don’t respect you, because you’re so kind and gentle. You’re forgiving and you’re non-threatening. They know they can devour you. And they’re trying to do that. But you make them feel really uncomfortable. They know they can be mean to you, because you’re not mean and vengeful like they are. As badly as you have been treated as a child, you should be really mean and manipulative and angry, just like they are. But you’re not. The way I feel about you is, I have huge respect for you as a human being. We’ve worked together for about a year now, and I’ve just find myself in your corner. I care about you.” She said, “Well, you’re just saying that because it’s your job.” I said, “Oh, you think I’m doing it for the money.” She laughed. And she said, “Yeah, right.” I said, “Well, I not only care about you, I care for you, because of who you are. I just can’t help it. I’m just drawn to you, because you’re like that. I admire you. I wish I could be more like that myself sometimes.” I said, “What do you call that, when somebody respects you and cares about you and cares for you?” “I don’t know.” She did know. She wasn’t going to say it. I said, “It’s called love. That’s what it is – not like a husband, not like a father” – I have kids her age – “or even like a friend, but like a therapist” – 45-minute-a-week world – “and I just can’t say that about everybody that comes in here. So I’m not saying it to try to make you feel better.” I pommel her irrational beliefs with the truth about how good she is. She has a hard time believing that she can be loved and that she is loveable. That’s because, when she was the baby in the crib – and all her life until she left home – she never got treated right. So it’s hard for her to trust, in some ways, and yet in others, she’s very trusting.

So how are we, when God showers us with care and love? Do we get it? He keeps loving us. He keeps taking care of us. He keeps meeting our needs, just like the baby in the crib. And, eventually, we’re supposed to know that we are loved by Him and worthwhile in His plan, aren’t we? That’s why He has done that. That’s why He has offered His Son as a sacrifice – to show us how important we are to Him, and how valuable, and how much respect and love He has for our potential, and for us as human beings.

That’s one of the things I thought of. Here’s the second one. Let’s read about it in Romans 5:1-5. Paul said:

Romans 5:1-5 – Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace with God. Remember, I told you about the people that are anxious because they don’t know if God’s going to take care of them or not? They don’t have peace. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. We hope to be glorious, like God is, when we’re a part of His family. Not only that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance. Sometimes, you know, when babies get a little older, you can let them have everything they want – the carpet fuzz, the running out in the street – that kind of thing. So we know that our parents protected us by setting boundaries for us. …knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not put us to shame.
We will not be disappointed in our hope, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

So that’s the second one – the Holy Spirit. God provides us the ability to think like He does, to see what He sees, to feel what He feels. And that is to include His love for us, so that we can know that He wants to be close to us and that He loves us. We’re supposed to sense that, because the Holy Spirit is the mind of Christ in us, which Paul said in another place, is the hope of glory. So that’s a pretty good thing, isn’t it? God has given us special insight, so that we can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we’re loved.

We were talking about this anxiety program. She was talking in this program about how people get anxious and then they start having a panic attack. You have to, at some point, if you’re going to stop the panic attack, realize that what you’re getting anxious about isn’t really anything to be anxious about. It’s just a reaction. So you take control of yourself and say, “No, I don’t need to feel anxious about this,” and then you start doing what you have to do – breathing or whatever – to control the body response. You take control of your mind and control of your body.

Well, the Holy Spirit is there to help us take control of our mind, so that we can take control of our body. It’s there to prove to us that the irrational ideas we have about not being good enough, not being worthwhile, not being important to God, being too bad to be forgiven, etc., that’s just nothing. It’s not important – those thoughts. They aren’t true!

We were singing a song here. It’s a very emotional song, but there’s no thought behind it. How do you glorify God? Just feel good? No! You have to do something to glorify God. There’s got to be something logical behind it. That’s what the Holy Spirit gives us. It gives us a way to think that is connected to God.

Okay, here’s the third one. Let me ask you this question first. If God is our Father, who is our mother? Who is the other one that takes care of us? Well, let’s go to Galatians 4:26.

Galatians 4:26 – But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. If you read the context here, Paul has made an analogy. He’s compared Mount Sinai and the Old Covenant to Jerusalem as the new. He says that we’re in the New Covenant now. So new Jerusalem is our mother.

So God has also given us the church, which is to nurture us. The church’s role is to take care of us – to help us do what we need to do, to teach us the lessons we need to learn. To provide us the nourishment we need to take care of us. This time, in the history of the Church of God, I wonder if many of us really value and realize how important that is. Some of us, with our doctrinal dogmatism, and our personality faults, and our lack of appreciation for other people, and our failure to be responsive to others, and all the things that we have, many of us can’t find a way to fit into a place. We don’t have a connection that we need to have to the people that God has provided around us to take care of us. And that is kind of a sad thing. Maybe that’s like being a teenager. There are so many hormones going, you just don’t like anything your parents do for awhile.

I went through that phase when I was in college and high school – the last year of high school. Some kids go through it when they’re young teenagers. And I remember I would take people home from the college to spend a weekend at my house and go to church there – just to get people off campus. I would always warn them about what a goofball my dad was – how corny he was. And they would, invariably, on the trip back, berate me for saying that about him, because they thought he was such a great guy. I finally started to get the message. Just cut people a little slack. Let them be the way they are.

This is probably going to offend some people, but I had two lesbians in my office one day. They had adopted a child with reactive-attachment disorder. They were both very educated and articulate people. They knew more about RAD than I did. They studied a lot and they were trying to find a male therapist – because he was a boy – that could kind of try to bond with him and have him go through all the things RAD kids do – pushing people away and all that. At the end of the interview, which went really well, they said, “We have one other question for you. We think you probably figured out by now that we’re lesbians. We want to know if you have a problem with that.” I said, “Well, you know, I’m straight, but I noticed that, when you came in here, you didn’t try to tell me how to live my life, so maybe I’ll just not do that with you either. Let’s just focus on your son.” They really liked that. They probably get pretty well judged everywhere they go. I read the Bible.

I know what it says about that, but I also know that God says that it’s His job to take care of those things – not us. So just try to be nice to everybody and let God sort it out later. Just because they’re in my office doesn’t mean I have to become one. We could be like that with church people about a lot less severe stuff. Maybe things would go better for us.

So that’s the third thing that God gives us that is immeasurably helpful. The church I’ve been in and the college I went to had lots of problems. But it was still way better for me than not being in it and not going to that college. I got so much out of it.

Okay. What’s the job of the church? To make disciples. That’s right. That’s the job of the church. Isn’t that right? Make disciples. What was Jesus doing when He was here on earth? Making disciples, right? So what does that mean? If the church’s job is to make disciples, and that’s what He did when He was here, what does that mean? What it means is, that all members of the church have been invited into partnership with Him and His work. That’s a pretty good thing, isn’t it? Would you have to trust somebody to be in partnership with them? You would. He’s done that. He sent out the seventy in groups of two – thirty-five groups. Do you think He could have done a better job of it Himself? Yes, He could – undoubtedly. But He was willing to give His partners experience. He probably knew, too, that, if those people really were going to receive the calling, it would come around again, so He had faith that things would work out.

Now those are four pretty important things, I think – pretty powerful things, if we think about them – that we’ve been invited into the very work of God. He calls the church our mother and the body of Christ. He loves us like we’re His own body. Paul even said that husbands are supposed to love their wives like they are a part of their own body, because that’s how Christ loves the church. Isn’t that amazing! A lot of us think God is out to get us. Have you ever hit your thumb with a hammer on purpose? No, nobody does that – unless there is something really bad wrong with them. And there’s nothing bad wrong with God, so He doesn’t deliberately hit members of His body on the head on purpose, just to be mean or to hurt them. He takes care of them. He nurtures His body.

What else would we say that God does for us? Well, there was this song awhile back that Amy Grant sang, “Thy law is a lamp unto my feet and a guide unto to my way.” A lot of people think that the law is restrictive, and it’s Old Testament, and you shouldn’t obey the law anymore, and all of that. And the song says – which comes right out of the Bible – the Psalms – that God’s law is a guide to keep us out of trouble.

I was talking to my friend, Guy Swenson, who got tired of preaching about church health and decided to do it. He started a little congregation in Indianapolis and they started taking care of the poor. Now they have a house somebody gave them, I guess. I guess they gave it to them, or they gave them enough money to buy it. I don’t remember the story. They have a house there – a ministry house – and they feed people, and they teach kids Sabbath school lessons Saturday – from the community. And they’re in the poorest part of town. I was kind of giving him the business about not talking more at the Feast about what he’s doing, because it’s such a good example for all of us. I asked what he had learned from his experience. And he said something I really wasn’t quite thinking about. He said, “Well, probably the most powerful lesson I have learned is that, if you don’t obey the law of God, you will suffer.” He said, “Because I see people, every day, who don’t know what the law says, and they make the biggest mistakes, and they cause themselves so much heartache and trouble, because they don’t follow God’s ways. They don’t follow The Guide.

In my practice, I’ve never met a child that was allowed to do whatever it wanted that felt love. All kids know, even though they rebel against the rules, they know that those rules are there because their parents care. And they will, invariably, interpret a lack of rules asa lack of caring on the part of their parents.

So guidance is the fifth thing that I think that God provides us to show us He really does care about us – that He wants us to be in His Kingdom, and that He wants us to go the right way, and to get there with the least amount of suffering that it’s going to take.

There’s another way that God guides, too. We were talking about this anxiety program that Elaine got from one of her friends in the congregation. She’s been praying for some kind of solution to her anxiety issues for a long time. She’s taken care of all the stuff from the past, but after awhile, it just becomes a habit. It becomes a habit your nervous system carries on with in your mind. So, somehow, it just got brought up, and then she found out about it, and that same person who was also coming to see me, had a wife who used to go to the Worldwide Church of God in Alaska, and is now attending here with us, because she found out there was one here. I mean, how do you figure that ever happened? Well, that’s guidance, isn’t it? Just don’t know what to do, can’t find it, and then it just kind of bing! There it is. The door is open. So God does that stuff for us and He hates us so much, right? No, that’s Him doing the baby-in-the-crib thing – taking care.

One of my clients, who is fourteen, and whom I have seen since she was eight, was talking about how her father’s death has affected her life. She’s just now getting to where she can really feel her feelings and talk about things. And part of that is because she’s getting older. But she made the statement to me – kind of out of the blue – she said, “If my father had lived, he would not have let me be such a brat and to get in so much trouble when I was in the third grade. And he would not have let my brother hit me so much when I was little and make me so angry. And, if I had not been so angry, I never would have met you.”

We were talking about how strange that is – you know, her dad dying when she was two months old – that wasn’t a good thing – and vandalizing seven classrooms when she was eight years old – that wasn’t a good thing – having her older brother beat on her most of her young life – sometimes because of things she did to him – none of that was a good thing. But she did count it a good thing to have come into contact with me, because we have a really good relationship. We were talking about how, when even something bad happens, God can make something good come out of it. And she said, “Life is weird.” This child has a really good heart. It’s not just that she feels like it’s been in her best interest to meet me, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more out of it than she has. I’ve learned a lot from dealing with her. As far as me being helpful to her, it’s a lot easier to be a good person in that room than it is anywhere else I’ve ever been. Unless you’ve been a therapist, you probably don’t know how that works, but it’s true.

This girl doesn’t really have too much religious training, but she does believe in God. And I do believe He has kind of thrown us into contact with each other. I mean, there are a lot of therapist in this town that work with kids, so I don’t know how that happened that that connection was made that way, but it has worked.

What else? The sixth thing. Let’s go to Isaiah 46:4. This scripture becomes more meaningful to me with every passing year.

Isaiah 46:4 – Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He. I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you. There’s that Hebrew poetry where the idea keeps repeating in different words.

When we see somebody on the news – usually they’ve done something wrong, unless they’re being interviewed as an expert – you see them led off in handcuffs, or their house has burned down, or something. Usually, they left the stove on, or they did something really stupid, like try to sell drugs, or they beat their kid, or something like that. Usually, when we get in trouble – at least, in part – we have a lot to do with it. So, usually, when God says He’s going to rescue us, what He really means is, He’s bailing us out of our own foolish behavior. Most of the time, when we see people that have been mean to others, we think, “Well, they got 15 years in the pen. They deserve what they get.” God isn’t so much like that for most of us. I mean, sometimes He lets us suffer because of what we’ve done, but sometimes He bails us out and doesn’t let us suffer the full effect of our own foolishness. Isn’t that just the best thing? And He promises to take care of us.

Psalms 57:1 says:

Psalms 57:1 – Be merciful to me, O God. Be merciful to me, for in You my soul takes refuge. In the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until the storms of destruction pass by.

The picture went around this week, on the Internet, in an email about the bird on the wire with the two little babies under its wings. That’s us – in the shadow of God’s wings, where we can take refuge – quite often, from our own foolishness. He promises to heal us. Jesus said, “Why are you people so worried about what you’re going to eat, and what you’re going to wear, and all that stuff? Don’t you know that, if you just put God’s Kingdom first, all this other stuff is just going to take care of itself? You don’t have to worry about that. I’m going to take care of you.” Isn’t that just the best thing?

I caught myself worrying about something the other day. And I just said, “God says that He is going to rescue me, even in my old age, and that I don’t have anything to worry about. So I’m not going to worry about that. I’m going to do what I can and just go about my business.”

Okay. The last thing that God tells us – last thing. I call it direct intervention. I suppose most of these things could be direct, but I’m talking Red Sea, fiery furnace, the lion not being hungry in the lion’s den – that kind of stuff – close encounters. If you don’t have faith in God…the guys that were watching Daniel in the lion’s den, they probably said, “Ah, somebody probably messed up and fed him.” I don’t know how they got around the fiery furnace thing. And we know the historians have all said, “Well, the wind blew and this and that. They really went across on dry land. It was just not really what happened.” But, when it happens to you, then you can really know that it’s real.

Anybody had a direct intervention here? A close encounter? What would it be? Finding the congregation? I was pretty freaked when it happened, I tell you.

So there are seven things that are ways that God does the baby-in-the-crib thing with us, as adults – that He takes care of us. He provides the things that we need. Where’s all this suppose to go? What is God accomplishing in our lives by caring for us in this way – by these seven strategies? And I’m sure there are more than that. This is just all I could think of. What do you think He’s trying to do? Well, what happens to the baby when it gets taken care of? It trusts. That is the idea.

There is a thing where David took food to his brothers, and there was this Philistine giant challenging the armies of Israel every day, and they were all chicken to go out and fight him. He said, “Well, I’ll go fight him.” The king said, “Well, you can’t do that. You’re just a kid. You can’t even put on my armor. Here, try it.” And he couldn’t. It was too heavy for him. David, “There was a lion and there was a bear that came – both of them tried to attack the flock. And when the smoke settled, it was sheep, two, lions and bears, zip. And that’s because God took care of it for me. And it’s going to be the same way with the giant today.” David had been taken care of by God. And he got it! He understood the message. “Oh, we don’t have to be afraid. We just have to do what’s right.” And he knew what to do. That’s the end goal of God taking care of us – trust. But then from trust, what happens? Well, we’ll talk more about that later.

Next time we’re going to look at our part in responding to God’s offers and efforts to take care of us – to meet our needs. And that will be about intentionality and trusting God and about telling our faith story.