Spiritual Fathers

Yesterday I read through 1 Thessalonians because I had a question about the rapture.

(Why didn’t I just read “the rapture verses” (4:13-18), you ask? Because reading through entire books of the Bible all at once gives you invaluable context for the oft quoted verses we Christians like to lob out to people. I recommend you try it.)

What’s awesome about the Bible is I usually get more than I came for when I read it. That happened several times throughout my reading of 1 Thessalonians, but the verses that gave me the most pause were 2:11-12.

Context: Paul is writing to encourage and affirm the Thessalonians as they face persecution.

And smack dab in the middle of chapter 2, Paul says, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory,” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

To say that I love this model Paul gives for what a spiritual father should look like is an understatement.

(I say “spiritual father” when Paul only says “father” because not all fathers do the three things Paul says they do. Though they should, not all biological fathers encourage their children or comfort their children or urge them to live lives worthy of God. And for kids who don’t have fathers who fit this bill, they can benefit greatly from having a spiritual father – someone who steps into their lives and does these three things for them as if they were these men’s own children. If you are blessed with a biological father who does do the three things Paul describes here, your biological father is your spiritual father.)

I think what strikes me most about this passage, aside from the warm feeling I get from this positive portrayal of an ideal father, is that Paul is talking to adults.

The Thessalonians – full-grown adults – still needed someone to deal with them as a father deals with his children. No matter how old these believers were (and, chances are, some were probably old enough for AARP cards), they all still needed a fatherly influence in their lives, at least in a spiritual and emotional sense.

The Thessalonians didn’t necessarily need anyone to protect them physically or to provide for them financially, like a father would’ve done for them when they were actually children. But they still needed encouragement and comfort – emotional support as they went through difficult times. And they still needed urging to live lives worthy of God – spiritual support as they faced trials and tribulations.

It is no stretch, then, to say that we probably need spiritual fathers, too. Yes, us. Independent, make-yourself, college-degree-holding, home-owning, don’t-want-for-anything Westerners. We need men like Paul to come alongside us and to speak into us in fatherly ways. We need spiritual fathers to encourage us when we’re discouraged, to comfort us when we’re out of sorts, and to urge us in loving ways to live up to our potential in the Lord for His glory and our benefit.

Do you have a spiritual father?

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Can Separation Ever Be Good?

The Lord has been trying to get me to agree with Him on something for months… or has it been years? I can’t remember.

Anyway, He finally found a way that even I – the woman who could have been a lawyer – can’t argue with.

If you like your life the way it is, I suggest you close your browser.

I’ll wait.

Still here?

Okay…

So the background I can share with you is I am fiercely loyal. If we ever become friends, we will be friends until I die. When I care (caveat), I care deeply… and forever.

Which can be a problem when life separates us.

I moved a lot as a kid, and I still deeply miss and regularly think about my childhood friends. We don’t interact beyond Facebook, and I have no delusions that we would still be the best of friends today if only we lived near one another… But I’m not surprised when the casualties of moving show up in my dreams… weekly. And I still get sad I’m not 9 anymore.

And then there was high school. I had amazing friends back then – the kinds of friendships that only happen in movies. We were inseparable and forever changed for the better for having known one another. I think fondly about one or more of those people every. single. day.

With a background like this, it’s easy for me to feel like separation is never a good idea. It’s easy for me to view it as an evil to be avoided at all costs.

And I’ve been trying to convince God I’m right for quite awhile… He isn’t buying it.

Because He knows that sometimes separation is good.

Did I really just say that? Me? The girl who goes through the 7 stages of grief when her favorite FICTIONAL TV shows are cancelled?

Yes, I can’t keep saying separation is always wrong and bad… because God says otherwise. And no matter how much I Hate with a capital H that this is true, that doesn’t make it any less true…

Why can’t I just be a post-modern who doesn’t believe in truth?

Sigh.

That’s a different post.

For now, would you like to know what finally convinced me I must call some separation good?

No? Close your browser.

I’ll wait.

Still here?

Okay…

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, God the Father and God the Son, Jesus, were separated… it happened only once, but it happened nonetheless. There was a boundary, if you will, when Jesus lamented from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). It’s hard to say what exactly happened at that moment, but it’s clear the Father turned away from the Son in some way.

Lean in close…

Since God never does anything that isn’t good, we have to conclude this separation was good.

And if separation can be good for the Father and the Son, even just once, we have to conclude there might come a time when it would be good in our human relationships too.

I know.

I don’t like it either.

Truth be told, it terrifies me.

But it helps me to take notice of a couple things about the Father and the Son’s separation…

  1. It was temporary. Don’t get me wrong, it was extremely painful. But it didn’t last forever. In fact, it only lasted three days.
  2. It didn’t change how they felt about each other. Neither the Father nor the Son lost one ounce of affection for each other while they were apart. If they hadn’t already shared the maximum amount of love for one another possible, I’d even say such a separation would have increased their love for one another. Father pride swells when children do right…
  3. It was for the greater good. The Lord redeemed humanity via that separation. Turns out that break was the only way to restore what always should have been.
  4. The reunion was sweet. In the story of the prodigal son, the father’s joy is unbounded when he is reunited with his son. And, so, too, I am confident, was the Father’s joy when He got His Boy back.

I imagine these four characteristics can be applied to any separations we experience in our human relationships… I know they all aren’t always going to be true… and even if they were, the hurt will still steal our breath and wet our eyes as we walk in obedience…

But maybe we can ask the Lord for the faith to believe that maybe just one or two of these ideas will be true in our lives? And maybe they can help us be brave when He calls us to separate from people we love?

How to Love People Better

You know how sometimes God puts together cute little lessons for us that all revolve around a central theme? (He could be a party planner that way. He could be on Pinterest.) Well, the lessons of the month for me are all about learning to love better.

God is showing me I’ve previously approached relationships with a pretty self-centered perspective.

Sometimes I blatantly, yet subconsciously, use relationships to meet my needs. In other words, I maintain relationships because they benefit me in someway.

Other times I am more covert. I focus on meeting other people’s needs in relationships because it makes me feel good to know other people benefit from being friends with me. It’s a little more pleasing to the eye, but it’s still rooted in selfishness.

If a relationship doesn’t meet my needs or make me feel good by allowing me to meet others’ needs, I usually don’t put any effort into that relationship. If there’s nothing in it for me, what’s the point?

What's in it for me?
image via empowernetwork.com

Sounds pretty godly, right?

Negative, which is why God has been creating all kinds of “opportunities” for me to grow up. And, dare I say, I’m finally starting to make some headway.

I’ll just go ahead and tell you my recent growth hasn’t happened because some well-meaning Christian quoted 1 Corinthians 13 to me and told me I ought to love like that. It’s true, I should love like that, but sometimes when I read verses 4 through 8, all I hear is a list of standards I can’t keep. I get discouraged. To love as perfectly as Paul describes feels like spinning plates, trying to make sure they all stay atop their poles before the whole show comes crashing to a halt.

No, that intimidating passage was not the catalyst for my recent improvement. Actually, the difference-maker for me was a friend taking time to share his view of what it means to love others well. And because he has a great track record of loving me well, I listened to him. He said when he interacts with someone, he asks himself, “What is in the other person’s best interest?”

Huh.

I’d never thought of that.

Probably because, at first glance, it has nothing to do with my best interest.

As I pondered my friend’s perspective, it reminded me of servant love. It reminded me of Jesus washing gross feet because the disciples needed to be clean before they ate (John 13:3-12). It reminded me of Paul enduring beatings because it was in the Gentiles best interest to hear the Gospel (Acts 16:23-33). And, of course, it reminded me of Jesus dying on the cross because we needed rescuing in the worst kind of way (Luke 9:22).

All that to say, I decided my friend might be onto something. So the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asking the Lord to help me intentionally ask myself, “What is in my friend’s best interest right now, and how can I help promote that interest?”

I’m asking this question before I give well-meaning advice, while I’m having conversations with people, when I’m leading women in Bible study, when my husband gets home from work, when my kids are being challenging. And I’m finding it to be quite clarifying.

Too often I discover what I was considering doing or saying would have made me feel good, but it would not have been what the other person really needed most at the moment. Then I have a choice.

Do I say/do what I want anyway, or do I stop in my tracks, exercise self-discipline, and choose to love the person how they need to be loved?

It’s hard. Dying to self is always hard. But it’s also gratifying. Knowing I am loving people better than I used to motivates me to keep going in this direction.

And, just so you know, I fail a lot. Sometimes I revert to self-centered “loving”. Conviction sets in, and I have to repent to the Lord. But I’m always met with grace. He sees my heart. He knows I am trying. He knows growing is a process. And He delights over me because I am His.

He feels the same way about you.

Anyway, give this technique a whirl, and let me know if it helps you.

Feel Good Article of the Year

One thing I haven’t come to grips with yet about this life is that friendships don’t last forever.

In fact, all relationships are fluid. People move in and out of our lives as time goes on. It’s just a fact of life.

A fact of life I despise.

Whether it’s circumstances, choices, disagreements or death, everyone we hold dear will eventually leave us. And, of course, we will also eventually leave them.

Even our familial relationships will end. We may live in the same city for 60 years with our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our children… we may have great emotional intimacy with them, picture perfect (yeah, right) relationships, but, if nothing else does, death will prevail.

Circumstances separate us. Our best friends we grow up with move away for college or for a job or for a significant other. We get absorbed into creating our new families, pursuing our new careers and exploring our callings. We keep in touch as best we can, but time and distance defeat our resolve.

Choices and disagreements break our relationships. Our spouses file for divorce. Our children flee in rebellious huffs. We push our friends away out of self-protection.

The list goes on… the point remains the same. No relationship is forever.

We are utterly alone. The only companion we have through it all is ourselves, and we don’t even really like ourselves all that much. Realizing this is hopelessly depressing. We fold our hands and choose to insulate ourselves from this painful reality by retreating from our present relationships. Avoid pain at all costs – this is the human mantra.

But we can’t live like this.

We soon discover the pain of being a hermit equals or surpasses the pain of loving others we know we are going to lose one way or another.

Who will rescue us from this catch 22?

“…the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” (Galatians 1:3-4).

Jesus gives us the solution. He offers us all eternal life so death will no longer separate us from those we love. We may be temporarily separated on earth, but we will be reunited in heaven forever, enjoying sweet and perfect friendship.

What’s the catch?

Both parties must accept Jesus’ solution.

It’s not hard, but it does break down our pride quite a bit to admit we can’t right this ship ourselves. We can’t over come loneliness or the inevitable fact that all our relationships are coming to an end. We’ve already lost so many – proof we can’t control anything.

But there is One who is offering us hope – hope we literally and figuratively cannot live without.

Choose hope.