By Tony Wang
Even though we don't always appreciate dads, at least we're learning. I heard someone say that in recent years, long distance companies have actually noticed a higher growth rate of calls on Father's Day than on Mother's Day. The only problem is that the majority of those call on Father's Day were collect calls. Sometimes we take dad for granted and think that their main job is just to provide for our needs.
As we take time to appreciate our fathers today, I want to talk about appreciating our heavenly father, as well. Last month I talked about how the Bible sometimes describes him as a mother. I also mentioned how it seemed strange or difficult to appreciate the mother like qualities of God because we always refer to him as a male, as a father. But appreciating God as our heavenly father also has it's difficulties, and part of the reason is that a lot of us have a distorted image of what a father is supposed to be. Because our own earthly fathers have shortcomings and imperfections, we sometimes project that onto our heavenly father and that makes it hard to appreciate God as our father.
Being a father myself, now, I've come to understand some things about fatherhood that were previously difficult for me to fully appreciate. My son is only two and half now, so I'm sure that there's still plenty for me to learn as a father, but this morning I want to share my perspective as we consider three aspects of God's character that will help us to understand and appreciate our heavenly father more deeply.
It's also fitting, as we round out our year of worship that we consider these characteristics of God so that we can worship him more completely. And it may seem a bit strange to think of worshiping God as our father, but that's part of his character.
I. A father's love and compassion
The first area I want to talk about is a father's love and compassion. Psalm 103:13 says, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;" and 1 John 3:1, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" We always talk about God's love for us, but sometimes it's hard to comprehend what that really means. I don't think I ever doubted that my dad loved me when I was growing up. He never actually told me so, but I think from his actions I knew. I'm very thankful that my dad loved me, but as a kid, I'm sure I didn't really know the full extent of that love.
Understanding if from a parent's perspective adds new meaning, at least it did for me. A while back I read an article about how a lot of young boys in China are getting kidnapped and sold to rich people that want a son but can't have one of their own. The story explained that there are many poor migrant workers that have to let their sons play on the streets while they work, so they're easily kidnapped. And since they're poor and often don't have permanent homes, the police don't really do much to help them. Some of these parents spend years looking for their sons before giving up with broken hearts.
Anybody that reads a story like that is going to feel bad for those people. But when I read that story, I started thinking about what it would be like if that happened to my son. I thought about how traumatic it would be for him to get carried off and put in some family that he didn't know, never to see me again. As I thought about that, my eyes welled up with tears. Could a parent think of a more horrible tragedy for his kid to experience. Knowing that stuff happens to kids is bad enough. Thinking that it could happen to your own kid is almost unbearable. That's the kind of love a parent has, to a degree I never understood until I became a parent. We can have confidence that the love of our heavenly father is still deeper than even human parents can know.
Earthly fathers also have shortcomings in the way they love. Sometimes their love isn't always unconditional. Unfortunately, some of you may have experienced this growing up. Parents, especially Asian parents, have a way of placing some unrealistic expectations on their kids. Dads have a way of demanding certain accomplishments from their kids. "You have to do better in school. These grades aren't good enough. I know you can do better, just apply yourself." Or you might bring home a report card of six A's and one B and your dad would ignore all the A's and grunt, "what happened to that class, how come you got a B." Perhaps you heard that kind of thing often as a child. After hearing that enough times, it's easy to start believing that your father's love was in some way conditional.
Whether or not that was true for you growing up, we need to remember that our heavenly father's love is unconditional. There is nothing we have to do to earn his love and acceptance. We don't have to worry that his love will cease if we can't perform. In fact, it was when we were at our worst that God showed his love most greatly. Romans 5:8 says, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Verse 10 says that when we were God's enemies, when we were most rebellious towards him, he reconciled us to him through the death of his son. 1 John 3:1, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
II. A father's discipline
Another aspect of God's character that we sometimes find it hard to appreciate is his discipline. Some people don't like the idea of disciplining children, especially when it relates to spanking, and especially when you're the one being spanked. I know because I got more than my share of spanking when I was growing up.
I never understood that line parents always give when they're about to spank you, "this hurts me more than it hurts you." What a bunch of baloney, I'm the one with the sore bottom, how it possibly hurt you? I understand it a lot better now. When I first started spanking my son, I used to hit his hand with my hand, kind of like a slap. The only problem was, it didn't seem to bother him. I don't know if he was just being a tough guy or what, but I knew it was trouble. Oh great, that's all I need, a strong-willed son that doesn't care if he gets spanked. Sometimes I would hit him hard enough that my hand was hurting and he would just be looking at me as if to say, "so what?" It literally hurt me more than it hurt him. But no, that can't be what parents mean when they say that.
Only more recently have I begun to understand what it really means. Nowadays my son cries when he gets spanked because now I spank him on the bottom. When I tell him I'm going to spank him and put him on my knee, he starts fussing and squirming, trying to get out of it because he knows it's going to hurt. It's at that time, when I see him trying to avoid the spanking, that I have second thoughts. I think maybe I don't really have to spank him, I don't want him to have a sore bottom. I don't like seeing him cry. It's at those times that I understand that famous saying, "it hurts me more than it hurts you." It's never pleasant for a parent to have to spank their child. But it's also an essential part of teaching them right and wrong, and a parent that really loves his child will teach him that. Proverbs 13:24, "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him."
It's the same thing when God disciplines us. He compares himself to a father in Proverbs 3:12, "the Lord disciplines those he loves." Even though it's never pleasant or fun, we have to recognize that God disciplines us for our own good. There are always consequences for sinful behavior, and better that God teaches us that through loving discipline than allowing us to experience the punishment we really deserve.
Part of the problem is that we see discipline mainly as spanking and punishment, but as these verses show, it's more about teaching and training than anything. For example, I'm trying to teach my son good oral hygiene, so I force him to sit down so I can brush his teeth. He used to fuss and not cooperate, but we had to force him to open his mouth and allow us to brush. I'm sure it was unpleasant for him. It wasn't because he did anything wrong or sinful, it's just something that he needs to learn. That's part of discipline.
In the same way, we need to see God's loving hand behind his discipline. We need to be sensitive to how God is working in our lives, especially when things go wrong or when life doesn't seem to be working the way we expected or hoped. Sometimes it could be that he's just trying to teach us a lesson, whether patience or endurance or humility, or anything else. Or, he could be disciplining us because we did something wrong. Either way, let's learn to appreciate God's loving hand of discipline.
One thing we can be sure of is that God's discipline is always righteous, he never makes a mistake, unlike human parents. There were times when I got spanked because my parents assumed I did something wrong when it wasn't my fault, but that never happens with God. BTW, can you imagine what it must've been like if you were Jesus' father Joseph? If Jesus was perfect, then just think, every time you spank your kid, you're wrong!
III. Intimacy with dad
The third aspect of God's character that we must learn to appreciate is his intimacy, the fact that we can be intimate with him. For some of us this is hard to understand because we view God as an awesome and mighty God. And that he is. In the OT, God was never addressed or referred to as our father. There were a few places where he is compared to a father, such as the verses in Proverbs relating to discipline, but the OT believers never actually addressed him as "father." Just flip through the OT and glancing at some of the prayers of the saints. They usually start off with phrases like, "Oh great and mighty God," or "Most sovereign Lord," or "Oh Lord, you are a great and awesome God," something along those lines. But when we come to the NT, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Our father who art in heaven," signifying that he is a God who cares about us just like our earthly fathers. That was something new for the believers.
Again, some of you may have a hard time appreciating this aspect of God because of your earthly fathers. Some of your fathers were not intimate and caring. Perhaps some of them were even cold, maybe a few of you even had cruel and uncaring fathers. At the very least, most Asian fathers that I know of are just not very intimate. Even though they love their kids, they don't really know how to express it.
It was true of my dad. Like I said, I don't think I ever doubted his love for me, but I could never have known it from our communication. We never talked about anything deep or personal. We never shared feelings or emotions. Our communication was always on the level of exchanging facts. Consequently, I grew up thinking that was pretty normal for a father and child relationship.
It wasn't till I began learning more about God that I understood his desire for intimacy with his children. David understood God's desire for intimacy. I talked about this a couple months ago when we looked at one of the Psalms and saw how David was able to pour out his heart to the Lord, to express his feelings, his frustrations and disappointments, as well as his joys. Each of you needs to learn how to do that as well. That's the kind of intimacy God seeks with us.
For those of you that have a hard time seeing God that way, you need to learn about his intimacy. Put aside whatever images you have from your earthly father and see your heavenly father as the perfect God that he is, the ultimate dad. Sometimes he just wants you to crawl into his lap and tell him everything that's on your heart so he can put his arms around you for comfort and encouragement.
Let's look at one last passage, Romans 8:15. We do not need to look at God merely as an authoritarian figure. Rather, we can call him abba, father. The term "abba" was an Aramaic word of endearment. It was similar to saying papa or daddy. It was a clearly an indication of intimacy. That's exactly what the apostle Paul is talking about in this passage. We can have a confidence that our heavenly father, our heavenly dad, cares about us in a deep and intimate way.
That's not to say that we shouldn't fear and respect him as the sovereign Lord and awesome ruler of the universe. Rather, it's to recognize that he's both, and he can keep those qualities in perfect balance because he's the perfect dad.
So as you take some time to appreciate your earthly fathers today, don't forget to think about and appreciate your heavenly father. Think about his love and compassion. Think about his perfect discipline. Think about his desire for intimacy. Whatever good qualities your earthly father has, or doesn't have, your heavenly father has in the most perfect way. As our God and as our father, he is truly worthy of our worship. He's the ultimate dad.
Title: Appreciating The Ultimate Dad
By: Tony Wang
Series: Special Occasion
Davis Chinese Christian Church
536 Anderson Road
Davis, CA 95616, USA