This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:9-10, 19 NIV)
"This is love" - John makes a statement which he is very clear about. He is about to define love for us based on his long and intimate personal experience. I feel as if John is so clear about this that he is not expecting there to be any dispute.
"This is love" - not that we love, but that we are loved. Love originates in the heart of the Father. In fact, it was only because of love that the Father sent the Son to bring us back to himself. He didn't want us to live in independence and rebellion; he wanted a family. He therefore did everything possible to bring us back into that family.
We all want to be more loving of ourselves and of others. No matter how hard we try we will not be able to manage this without first recognising that we need to be loved. We don't receive love in order to give it away. We receive love because we need to receive it for ourselves.
As we are loved it is an inevitable consequence that the love we have received will begin to overflow and touch others. The only way to be more loving is to be loved. We often quote these verses and seem to recognise love comes from the Father. What we fail to do is put it into practice, the practice of being loved.
A simple prayer I often pray and I encourage you pray it too. You can pray this anywhere and at any time of the day.
"Father, will you fill me with your love".
He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food. But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you. (Job 36:16-17 NIV)
These verses are probably not well known yet they describe a recurring theme and that is freedom. Here we are in a place of distress (which can also mean anguish, torment, suffering or exhaustion) and there is a promise of something better for us. There is hope. We don't have to remain in this very negative place but we are drawn into a wide open space where there is freedom and the things that have restricted us fall away.
What draws us away from and out of this distressful place? Love. We are wooed; that's an intimate expression of love, gentleness and kindness. As Hosea writes, we are drawn with cords of loving kindness.
We are drawn out of our distress, a place where we feel restricted and into a wide open space where we are free from restriction. Not only that, before us is a table of choice food. This place of refuge is a place of comfort, provision and safety. It sounds a bit like Psalm 23:5 where we see a table of goodness laid out for us in the presence of our enemies. If we are expected to sit at a table and eat whilst our enemies surround us there must be someone else looking out for us. Our Father and his angels are there to protect and comfort us whilst the storm rages around us.
If you feel in distress (or any of the other words that I mentioned above) then allow your heart to come to a place of rest. Can you trust him to bring you through the storm and into a wide open space of freedom? He will comfort and provide, even in the middle of a storm. He can do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves.
There are times when it might appear as if the Bible contradicts itself. We read one thing in one verse and then completely the opposite in another. This can be confusing and leave us in doubt as to what is really being said. However, I have come to see that, very often, these apparent contradictions are simply like a before and after photograph. One verse might describe us before something happens and then the other shows what we are like once a significant event has taken place.
I want to look at one of these apparent contradictions.
"And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." (John 14:13-14 NIV)
In these verses Jesus clearly shows us that he stands in the gap and that through him we have access to the Father. A truly wonderful thing. He will take the things we ask him for, to the Father on our behalf. This is a powerful and comforting truth.
Yet only a couple of chapters later Jesus appears to say the opposite.
"In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf." (John 16:23&26 NIV)
Remember that these two scenarios were both said around the same meal table. Remember too, that the disciples were facing a confusing and tragic story being played out in front of them.
These two verses are not contradictory. They describe two different points in time and something very significant has happened between them. Between these two statements Jesus has reassured his disciples that he will always be with them, but most importantly that they are not being left as orphans. The Holy Spirit of Sonship will fill their hearts and they will be transformed from orphans to sons.
We are given the reason for this transformation: "The Father himself loves you" (John 16:27).
And so it is for us. Because we are being loved by the Father, Jesus says we have direct access to him. We can talk to the Father ourselves simply because he loves us! We are no longer orphans where we hide away and feel we can only come through Jesus. Each one of us can come directly to the Father.
Through the last few chapters of John's gospel we see another transition taking place. In John 15, Jesus says we are no longer servants but friends. After the resurrection we are drawn more deeply into relationship: we are his brothers and we share the same Father. Why? Because the Father himself loves us.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:7-9 NIV)
Last week we looked at 1 Corinthians 13:13 - "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love". I almost feel that this verse in John's gospel could follow on from that - "the greatest of these is love, now remain in my love". Living in love is the most excellent way.
As we read these verses we are presented with a choice, or rather with an invitation. An invitation to remain. To dwell or to abide in his love. To be at home in his love.
The Father is always loving us, he is loving each of you right now and that love is completely unconditional and not dependent on anything we do or don't do. Living in love is the key to a fruitful life. Fruit comes from abiding and not from busying ourselves with activity. That's not to say there aren't things we do, of course there are. But like Jesus, everything we do flows from our relationship of resting in the Father.
As we remain in love we discover the truth of these words:
All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:27-30 NIV)
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)
And yet I will show you the most excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV)
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)
We hope for many things, some of which we may see happen whilst others fade away like a candle that is burning out.
Hopes, like dreams, are things we hold onto and they are things we really want to experience. I guess most of us know what it feels like when our hopes or dreams are shattered. It's a bereavement. We feel the loss acutely.
Faith is a bit like a fishing line. It goes off into the future, hooks onto one of our hopes which we then reel back into the present. Faith brings our hopes into our reality, it gives them substance. Of course it would be nice if we had faith for all our hopes and dreams but it often doesn't work out quite like that.
My encouragement is that you ask Father which of your hopes are going to be drawn into the present. That's faith. Let the fishing line of faith catch your hopes and dreams and may they become a reality in your daily lives.
Faith and hope are important but they are not the most important. Paul reminds us that love is the "most excellent way".
Whatever happens with our hopes and to our faith, we are always held in his love. His love surrounds us every day of our lives regardless of how we feel or what is happening. He is always faithful, he is always loving and when we don't see our hopes realised we do have the assurance of his love holding and carrying us.
"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. And I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18 NIV)
God has always been Father, but does that mean we have always been his children?
Many years ago, I was single. Then I got married and became a husband. A few years later we were blessed with our eldest daughter and I became a father. Sometimes that's the logic we apply to who God is. We are born again, we become a child of God and we automatically assume that is the point in time he became a Father.
Well, look at it this way. A couple of years after our eldest daughter was born we had a second daughter. I was already a father at that point in time so I did not become a father, I already was one. Our family was simply getting bigger and my fatherhood growing. So can we apply this picture to our heavenly Father? Maybe. God has always been the Father of Jesus and so the more the children he had the more his family would grow, the more his fatherhood would extend.
But even this is not a complete picture. We read in Ephesians 1:4-5 that we were chosen to be sons and daughters before the foundation of the world. Jeremiah was known before he was in his mother's womb (Jer 1:5). David writes in Psalm 139 that we were known intimately by God before our birth and that he was our Creator. God's fathering of us goes way beyond our human understanding.
Many of us have had painful experiences with our earthly parents, none of us have had perfect parents and that view can colour how we see our Heavenly Father. He is way and beyond anything we have experienced and however difficult that has been he is the Perfect Father. He has always been our Father. The trouble is, we wandered off in our own independence and thought we could manage life without him. He has pursued us and done everything to bring us back home. Through Jesus, he has made it possible to come back into relationship with him.
A couple of weeks ago we saw how God is Father. Put very simply he has lost his children and he wants them to be found and to come home.
Paul describes it like this: "God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Therefore since we are God’s offspring....." (Acts 17:27-19 NIV). We are his offspring because he has always been our Father. We are invited to become children, sons and daughters, as we come home to him and that way is through Jesus and Jesus alone.
“I myself said, “‘How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.” (Jeremiah 3:19 NIV)
This is the prophetic cry that has been on God’s heart ever since Adam and his wife chose to walk in their independent and orphan-hearted ways in the garden. In fact, I believe this is the cry that has always been on his heart, even since before the beginning of time.
God longs, he waits, he yearns, he desires to be called ‘Father’ for one very simple reason. That’s who he is. He does a lot of other things: he heals, he provides, he cares, he protects and so much more. There are 365 names for God in the Old Testament, the majority of which describe his nature or personality together with the things he does. But one name describes who he is - ‘Father’.
As we saw last week, he has always been Father and he longs to be a Father to YOU.
Generally, a father will only give his inheritance to his children, he will not give it to servants or slaves. Our Father has a wonderful inheritance for us. It is the best inheritance of any nation but it is only given to sons and daughters.
There is so much more to being a Christian than purely being saved, as wonderful as that is. There is more. As we know God as Father, I believe he opens the door for us to step into our inheritance in a much greater way. (I have written more about this in my recent booklet “Father’s Comfort” which is freely available from the Articles page on the website).
He is Father, he always has been Father and he is waiting for you to call him “my Father”.
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.(Luke 2:46-49 NIV)
As we read the gospel stories we follow the story of a Son and his Father. Does this story start with a baby being born in a borrowed stable and end with death on a Roman cross? For many that is their understanding. But this story started even before the clock started ticking in Genesis chapter one. This story runs from all of eternity before Genesis and it will run right through all of eternity after Revelation. It is a relationship which is set outside of time.
John understood this when he starts his gospel account with the words “In the beginning”. He is not referring to the creation story in Genesis, but is looking back into eternity before the clock started ticking. He sees a relationship and he describes that for us throughout his gospel. He describes a relationship which is one of perfect love.
As we read the gospels we are let into this story, we are invited to see what this relationship looks like. We are given a glimpse of how Father and Son relate to each other and how they relate to other people. This relationship is like no other. It is certainly not like the relationship the Pharisees and Leaders had with either God or the people. This was a new type of relationship, it was family.
In fact, this sort of relationship has always been in God’s heart. He wanted a family. He longs for sons and daughters who will be just like Jesus. The relationship we see is not just for us to view as spectators, it is one we are invited into. Just as God is Father to Jesus so he wants to a Father to us. That's who he's been and who he will always be.
Jesus was single-minded in his desire to live in the Father’s presence and be found doing his will. What about us? My prayer is that we, too, would long to be in Father’s presence and doing his work, not as servants but as sons and daughters.
God has always been Father, and he longs to be a Father to YOU.
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As I travel, I hear more and more people talking about 'the Father's love' or 'the Fatherheart of God' - but what do these expressions really mean?
In this book, I define some of these popular expressions within the context of the Sonship of Jesus and then look at how our lives change as we begin to allow God to be a Father to us. As you read you will discover the truth of who you are and how his love will make all the difference.
It's available on Amazon (in either paperback or Kindle), click here to purchase your copy.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:21-26 ESV)
Sometimes (maybe very often) it seems that life is not going the way we had planned. It seems as if everything is going wrong or has become a challenge. We wonder where God is and after a while we can begin to lose hope. The longer this continues the more our hopelessness turns into desperation. A bleak place to be.
Jeremiah was experiencing something similar but at his low point he remembers that the unfailing love of the Father never ends or runs out. It is that memory, at the critical point, which begins to restore his hope. He remembers that the love of God brings new mercies each and every day, that God is a faithful Father.
As his hope is rekindled he is once again able to put his trust in God and begin to wait for his salvation to come. Note that his hope does not spur him into action or works but causes him to rest and wait. Too often, when our hope starts to come alive we throw ourselves back into activity. Jeremiah encourages us to wait, to seek him and once again to wait quietly for the Lord.
When the joy of our heart has faded away let us seek renewal as we rest in his presence.
If you're looking for a Christmas present for friends or family try my Amazon author page for copies of my books: It Changes Everything, A Father to You, Comfort (Booklet), The Depth of Love and Planted in Love.
The next Weekly Signpost will be 6th January 2020 - have a great Christmas and New Year.
A Father to YOU is a signpost to the heart of the Perfect Father. When we became Christians we were given the right to become children of God (John 1:12). Sadly, many of us fail to take up that right and instead continue to live as slaves or orphans. But our true destiny is being sons and daughters who have a permanent place in the Father's family. This blog is an encouragement to help you know who God really is and who you really are.