There is Nothing Like a Daddy’s Love

I see my daughter, Gwendolyn, standing at the top of a staircase. She is dressed in a flowing white gown. Her strawberry blonde hair is swept up into teasing tresses. The aroma of fresh flowers drifts down to me. My heart is about to burst with love. It is her wedding day, and she is about to descend the stairs one last time before leaving her mother and me to start her new life and marriage.

Except that it won’t ever happen that way.

Gwendolyn has a mitochondrial disease. She can’t stand or walk. She can’t say, “I do.” Dresses are not wheelchair-friendly, especially when she wants to pull her legs up. She is nine years old, and it is likely that she won’t live to marriageable age. That’s the brutal reality I’ve had to mourn. But, even as I have let the wedding day dream die, I have discovered something greater from the heart of that dream — there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

I can’t fix Gwendolyn. I am not going to discover the cure for mitochondrial diseases, no matter how many articles I read or doctors I meet. I can’t figure out what will motivate her to do something new in her therapy. I have no idea what tomorrow might bring for our family. But that’s OK.

There are times when Gwendolyn will only calm down if I take her in my arms and hold her close. She snuggles into my left shoulder just a certain way. At night, she needs me to sing her a hymn or two and whisper, “Daddy loves you” before she goes to sleep. Sometimes when I come home she just smiles and giggles. On fall Sundays, there is no place she would rather be than watching a Steelers game with me (before napping). I can bathe her, change her, brush her hair, and make her do her therapy. I can navigate a wheelchair, make her daily food, start her feeding pump, and administer her medications. I’m Daddy, after all. And there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

My wife is tired. The daily grind is exhausting. I have a full-time job that pays the bills but demands my energy. Our other
children need Dad, too. I don’t know how we will pay for a wheelchair van or home modifications. I still don’t have that special needs trust in place. Our vacations are tougher, if we can take them. Life could be easier, right? But I am here to stay, for my children and my wife. They need me because there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

My strength is sapped. I wonder what God is doing. Does God really care about what is happening to us? Then I realize I can climb into my Heavenly Father’s lap. He comforts me when no one else can. Even though I am broken seemingly beyond repair, He can fix my deepest needs. He provides our shelter, food, clothing, medicine, jobs, caring doctors and therapists, a fantastic church, and even occasional respite! If I stop to listen, through all the doubts and fears and questions, I can hear Him. He sings over me and whispers, “I love you.”

There is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. 1 John 3:1a

(Previously published in May-June 2013 FOCUS newsletter. Some editing done here.)

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Daddy Gotcha!

Lincoln (age 1) and Daddy

My youngest son, Lincoln, turned two this past week. He is a delightful and expressive little guy. We have a new phrase to describe some of our adventures – “Daddy gotcha.” It started when I was holding him over the sink to wash hands. He was feeling a bit afraid of falling and was protesting and fussing a little. I said, “Lincoln, it is OK. Daddy has gotcha.” We were able to finish washing hands.

Later I was helping him put on his clothes. I said, “Lincoln, lean on Daddy. Daddy has gotcha.” He leaned his full weight on me and we finished getting his pants on.

Just yesterday, I had him up on one of those restroom changing tables at the circus. He wanted to sit up or stand or something seemingly dangerous. I said, “Lincoln, you need to lay down and stay still.” He said, “Daddy gotcha.” That’s when it hit me.

“Daddy gotcha” is his statement of absolute trust in me. He can lean on me, let me hold him precariously, or expect me to catch him before he falls. He has complete faith in Daddy’s love and protection.

Shouldn’t we have an even greater confidence in our heavenly Father? Read these familiar words again, and realize how safe Christians really are:

“Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. Therefore, we may boldly say:
The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

Daddy gotcha!

God’s Overthrown Heart for You

One of the most emotional and theologically stunning chapters of the Old Testament is Hosea 11. Hosea pictures the 8th century northern kingdom (Ephraim/Israel) as a wayward child. Although God, as Father, has loved and raised him, the child (nation) has just kept going further away. In fact, he has broken faith with God and deserves destruction. Listen to the chilling threat of judgment from Moses almost 800 years earlier (c. 1500 BC):

It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.’ The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, … Now the generation to come, … when they see the plagues of the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it, will say, ‘All its land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.’  All the nations will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?’ Then men will say, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt.’ Deuteronomy 29:19-20, 23-25

Israel deserves to be overthrown and destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. They have turned their backs on God, worshiped false gods, formed unwise alliances with pagan nations, and committed despicable crimes against each other (see Judges 19-21!).

But wait! God’s message through the poet/prophet Hosea reveals another side of God’s passion:

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
I have had a change of heart;
My compassion is stirred!
I will not vent the full fury of My anger;
I will not turn back to destroy Ephraim.
For I am God and not man,
the Holy One among you;
I will not come in rage. Hosea 11:8-9

The word translated “change” here is the same root verb as “overthrow” (hapak) from Deuteronomy. God’s heart has been overthrown by His fired up compassion for His people. Thus, he will not overthrow them to destruction. Do you think He could have the same passionate love for you, despite your sin and guilt? The answer is a resounding “yes!” The Holy One has compassion for you.

Is God turning back on His justice here? Is he backing away from His own law? Certainly, if God is the Creator and Law-Giver, He can freely act however he may choose. He has divine freedom. But, God is not overthrowing His holiness and justice. Paul explains how Jesus fulfills both God’s justice and love in Romans:

But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.  God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26

In His love, God passed over sin until He took on its full penalty on Himself through Jesus’ death. His justice is upheld, but we are not destroyed. What amazing love our Savior has demonstrated to us!

How will you respond to this God whose heart is overthrown for you?

One Scripture?

Recently, a blogger asked me a great question in the comments on his blog. When I offered to help answer his questions about the Bible, he asked me if there was one Scripture that I considered “gold” or thought about every day. What a great question!

But it made me pause. One Scripture? I love every book of the Bible. My favorite one is always the one I am studying at the moment. There is so much depth, beauty, insight, inspiration, and joy in the Scriptures. Could I pick just one? I am not one who has chosen a “life verse” that encapsulates my faith or purpose. God has always provided the right Scripture at the right time for my situation. One Scripture? I decided to dig back into the bedrock foundations of my faith. What is essential? What do I know is true? What do I depend on?

I thought back to one of the great turning points in my life – a literal choice between life or death. I was just a young teen, probably finishing 8th or 9th grade. I had chosen to follow Jesus with my life a year or two earlier. I was on a youth retreat with my church at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. My life was just not going the way I wanted. I wasn’t athletic or popular. I wasn’t funny or attractive. I wasn’t talented in anything anyone noticed. I was believing Satan’s lie that no one loved me. One night I just sat out in the open air hallway outside my room. I looked down two or more stories to the ground and rocks below. A voice inside whispered, “no one will care if you just fall off of here and die…” I didn’t know the term “spiritual warfare,” but I knew this was a spiritual attack. I went back inside to get away from the immediate temptation. However, I was still wallowing in the self-pity and the lie. Later, I went back outside, letting the tears, at least, fall to the ground below.

One of our college age counselors, Keith, came and sat with me. He tried to offer advice and wisdom and comfort. It was nice to have someone notice my struggle, but it wasn’t enough. I did come in for the night, but my despair continued. However, during that week, God got my attention through the speaker. My memory isn’t clear on exactly what the speaker said, but God clearly revealed to me that He loved me. No matter what anyone else thought, He loved me. God loves me just the way I am! It sounds like such a simple truth, but it gripped me with a real power. I have value and worth. I have a purpose and a destiny. It isn’t because of anything that I am, except that I am loved by the King!

So here is that one scripture that, upon reflection, is the bedrock of my faith. When my faith wavers, looking for a foundation, this Scripture calls me back to the love that changed my life that week. Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (NASB)

 

Administrative note: Over the weekend, this blog received its 1000th all-time view. People from 17 countries have stopped by (unbelievable). Durt on the Bible isn’t taking the internet by storm, but I am thankful for all who take time to read. If it has value to you, please share it with someone else who might be encouraged.

A Dad Who Will Never, Ever Leave

I am a pretty easy-going guy. But there are a few things that get my blood boiling. Probably the most personal is “dads” who leave. My daughter, Gwendolyn (8), has a mitochondrial disease. There are no cures, and it will probably end her life early. We know many other families who are facing the difficulties of these diseases. In too many cases, though, “dad” has left. Now it is just mom handling a child (or children) with special needs. Like Gwendolyn, most of these children need 24 x 7 care. That’s a tough job with two involved parents. Some “dads,” I guess, bail out because they can’t fix the problem so they just move on.  It is abandonment.  I won’t mince words – that is evil.

It is probably more personal to me because I didn’t have a dad that stayed either. My parents divorced when I was 7. I saw my dad each summer for a few weeks, but that was it. (We have built a better relationship as adults.) My mom remarried, and my stepdad did stay for awhile. He was an angry man, though, and the relationship was never strong. After I was gone, my mom divorced him. Anger was not his only problem, though I don’t know all the details. The strongest male figure in my life was my grandpa. I am so thankful for the investment he made in my life as a young boy and teen. However, I do sense that “something is missing” because dad was not around.

The Scriptures reveal to us a greater dad – our Father in heaven.  Listen to the promise quoted in Hebrews 13:5:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  (NIV – emphasis mine)

 Those “nevers” are even more emphatic in the original Greek language, with multiple negatives stacked together. It could be paraphrased as “I will never, no, not ever, no never abandon you.” There is no doubting the intent of this promise. God is a Father who says He will never leave, no matter what.

Can we trust Him that it is true? My experience says, “yes!” When I walked away from God, he did not leave. When I have disobeyed him directly, He did not abandon me. When I shouted “WHY!?” He patiently listened. When I need Him most, I find Him. He has been true to His promise even though I have never deserved it. You can trust Him too!

How have you found God faithful to this promise to never leave? In my next post, I will talk about the results of this ever-present fatherhood.

The Power of the Cross

Atheists make me laugh sometimes. Did you know that they are organizing efforts to remove roadside memorials? You know, the on-site memorials that people create when a loved one has died in a car accident. Apparently, they are a menace to society. Who knew how dangerous they were? While the atheists claim it is about safety and convenience, they are most perturbed by the religious nature of the displays. If a cross appears on a public right of way, someone might think the government is sponsoring religion. Yeah, the reasoning makes me laugh.

However, I think they are actually pointing out something that we Christians often forget. There is power behind the symbols of our faith. Why did early Christians choose the cross as its most frequent symbol? Why not the empty tomb, the manger, loaves of bread, a servant’s basin, or a shepherd’s staff? Why choose the crude instrument of execution? It would be like us choosing to wear little electric chairs or a guillotine or a noose. Why the cross? It is because the cross is the ultimate demonstration of both God’s holiness and His love.

First – God’s holiness. It is the only characteristic of God that is compounded three times with the recognition “holy, holy, holy” (see Isaiah 6). It is His essential nature, and we know nothing of God until we glimpse His holiness. But when we glimpse it, we instantly feel our own wretchedness. We cannot stand in the presence of one so holy. Isaiah said, “woe is me, for I am ruined.” God does not allow sin into His presence, yet we choose to embrace it every day. Yikes!

God’s settled opposition to sin is His wrath. It isn’t explosive and irrational like man’s anger. He will not abide evil because He is good and holy. Most people agree that we are sinful, but they won’t agree that it is as serious as God says it is. We blow it off as “mistakes,” or not as bad as someone else. But God will not just overlook sin. We are really no different than those who crucified Jesus:

Like Judas, we choose personal gain over faithfulness and loyalty

Like Pilate, we reject truth and try to shift the blame

Like the Pharisees, we resent Jesus’ claim of authority over our lives

Like the Roman soldiers, we are just carrying out orders

Like the disciples, we abandon Him when it seems dangerous or unpopular to follow

Like the crowds, we will shout, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” but pardon the guilty

But as He is crucified, Jesus shouts, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It is a cry of love from the One we would kill. The cross is God’s ultimate demonstration of love. Romans 5:8-9 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”  But instead of marveling at this love, we are still mad about His holiness.

Because of His love for us, Jesus became one of us, took on all God’s wrath, and died for us. His death was not the death of a martyr or a good man unjustly accused. It was the death of God for His creation. It was the death of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. It was the ultimate demonstration of God’s sacrificial love.

Can we really be that loved and not respond? If God never did anything else, He has shown His great love in the cross. He wants us to be with Him forever, and He paid the ultimate price for it to be possible. Stand at the foot of that cross; consider his consuming holiness and his stunning love. It cannot leave us unchanged. I never want to forget or walk away unchanged when I look at the cross. How about you?