So I have this dilemma that I’m trying to work through, and I’m hoping that somebody out there can give me a bit of insight. A couple of weeks back I preached a message on being with Jesus, contemplating his last days as he was preparing to go to the cross. Naturally, a topic such as this leads to having an intimate relationship with Jesus, linking it to the intimate relationship Jesus had with his Father.

Now because I had a great Dad, I have no problem using examples from my boyhood of our times together…and it is so easy to transition right into my close relationship that I have with Jesus. On that Sunday I pointed out that Jesus actually calls us friends, and desires a relationship with us similar to what he has with his Father.  I then gave everyone a handout that gave step by step instructions on how to have those ‘contemplative’ moments with Jesus for four days during Holy Week.

So far so good.

I then walked everyone through a sample of what a contemplative time could look like. As I looked out over the auditorium, it was clear that people were encountering the ‘Father’s love’ for them. Perfect.

The service was slowly brought to a close. People were gathering their things up, others we’re chatting with their neighbours, and then there were others who were still engaged in prayer. And then it happened. A person came up to me with bewilderment and questions written all over their face. They shared with me that they have a really hard time with talking about God as their Father. They didn’t have that type of relationship with their dad as I did with mine. In fact, their dad abused them. As I listened to them explain the pain they experienced as a child, I couldn’t help but wondering how many others that morning had the same difficulty with me referencing God as ‘Father’. I prayed for them that they would experience God’s love this week. They left with some hope. I left with many questions.

We only get one father in this life, and if that father is a ‘piece of work’, then referencing God as ‘father’ probably isn’t a good thing. Or is it?

I’ve been thinking about this since that Sunday. If the Bible referenced God as ‘mother’, my perception of God (and maybe my relationship) would be different. I had a good mother, but she wasn’t like my father. There are a couple of ‘issues’ that I have had to deal with as an adult, and still have to work out in my more insecure moments.

So I put this question to my home group. One of them said that they couldn’t relate to God as ‘father’ because of their experience with their own dad. They suggested I could use ‘teacher’ because probably everyone has experienced a good teacher. But we don’t get to choose our ‘dad’ – what we get is what we get. And some of us are not that lucky.

I’ve wondered if I should not use any comparison of God’s love towards us? But the Bible does. What about if the only good example we have is an uncle, can people see God as their ‘uncle’?  Maybe, but at the same time, I want to be faithful to Scripture.  The last thing I want to do is stir up ‘bad memories’ or painful emotions in someone. More than anything, I want people to encounter the God who loves them with a pure love, like no one else can.

I’ve also wondered if maybe I should take the opposite approach – that God demonstrates what a true ‘father’s love’ looks like, not what our earthly father’s love looks like. But at the same time, I don’t want to put a ‘heavy’ on dads and make then feel like complete losers that don’t and never will measure up.

Any suggestions out there?

So You Wanna Speak on Behalf of God, Do You?

If you are a church leader (however that looks) then you are fully aware that while these may be the worst of times for the church in NA, you have to admit that they are also the best of times. One of the things that intrigues me are the many challenging issues that we are facing, or having to deal with. Better than all of that is the fact that agreement on these issues is hard to find within denominations.

I love it because the church is waking up to the fact that they do not really have a handle on just who this God is that we serve! In my personal faith journey over the last thirty years there have been two instances or thoughts – actually, make that three – that have reminded me again and again that I’m only scratching the surface of who God is.

The first time I was slapped upside the head to the reality that I know nothing of God was in my teens. I have this fascination of the cosmos. It all started with a trip to the McLauglin Planetarium in Toronto in my last year of high school. As I sat in this dark theatre gazing at the ceiling displaying the universe, I listened as the presenter told us that the distance of one light year is about 6 trillion miles. As he went on to explain that there are thousands of light years between us and other galaxies, my jaw fell open. And then when I heard him explain that the Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 megalight-years from us (1 megalight-year = 1 million light years), my brain went into spasm. Years later I thought: “Is it possible that there are things of God I don’t have a clue about?” Duh.

The second instance occurred in my Basic (systematic) Theology course that I took in my first year of Bible college. I remember sitting in class and the discussion was on the doctrine of creation. The prof stated the various views that were out there, and I’m sure that the majority of us were expecting him to tell us what the obvious ‘correct’ belief was (God created the earth in seven actual 24 hour days). Instead he pointed out the pros and cons of the various views and reminded us that there were God-fearing avid followers of Jesus who believed views that differed from ours. And then he asked this question: “Can God still be God to you and take a billion years to complete his creation as we know it? Is he free to take as long as he wants in whatever he does, and still be God?”

My answer wasn’t, “Well of course he can.” Instead I had to ponder that and ask myself, “Is it really possible that certain specific beliefs that we ‘true believers’ hold may be flawed?” In an instant I was humbled and my list of ‘everything-that-I-know-is-true-of-God’ shrunk.

Oh yes, the other thing that was a reminder to me was again in Bible College studying Job. I was reading chapter 26 where Bildad and Job are having a discussion on the greatness of God and his creation, and in verse 11 Job states, “And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” Job is right! My understanding of God is not even in the fringe – it’s the outer fringe!

There are times on a Sunday morning, just before I’m about to speak where I wonder: “Who am I to think that I can speak on behalf of God?” I dread the day when the church in North America hears this thunderous voice asking: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?”  You can bet I’ll be running for cover.