Category Archives: Faith

A GOOD FATHER

I grew up in a little Baptist church in North Dakota, where we faithfully had Communion, or the Lord’s Supper as we called it, once a month. Just like now. It must be a Baptist thing.

On communion Sundays, when the service was over and the grownups were standing around talking, we kids who were too young to participate in Communion would descend on the table holding the leftover elements. We helped ourselves to the soft, pillowy cubes of white bread, and tiny glasses of grape juice. It was lunch time and we were hungry.

Our parents treated this behavior with a mixture of slight discomfort and benevolent shrugging. On one hand, it seemed a bit scandalous. On the other hand, what was going to happen to the leftovers anyway?

I was reminded of this while reading the story of Jesus’ disciples walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath. They were hungry, Matthew says, and began eating the heads of grain. The Pharisees were outraged at this unlawful behavior. True, you weren’t supposed to spend the Sabbath day harvesting. You were supposed to plan ahead. But neither were you required to go hungry.

Unruffled, Jesus asks them if they know the Old Testament story of David and his friends entering the house of God, on the run and hungry, and eating the consecrated bread. Of course they did; they were Pharisees after all. They knew the Torah inside out. Mark tells us that Jesus defends the disciples by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

In other words, resting on the Sabbath was for the benefit of God’s people, not the other way around. Far from being a burden, resting one day out of seven was a great mercy for people who had previously been slaves in Egypt, making bricks seven days a week. The motivation behind the Sabbath was to have a day off to worship and rest, not to be fearful that meeting a legitimate need like hunger would incur God’s wrath.

This tells me that God is a very good father. He sees our needs and takes care of us. Maybe you trip over the image of God as a father because you didn’t have a good human father. The thought of God delighting in you and defending you may not be on your radar. I’m so glad the gospel writers included this incident in their portraits of Jesus. It’s important to know that the God who created us is paying attention to our needs, just as a loving human parent wants to make sure his child has a water bottle to get her through the baseball game, or a doctor and medicine when he’s sick. God is delighted to care for his children.

These lyrics from “Big House” by Audio Adrenaline express this idea perfectly:

Come and go with me
to my Father’s house.
Come and go with me
to my Father’s house.
It’s a big big house
With lots and lots of rooms.
A big big table
With lots and lots of food.
A big big yard
Where we can play football.
A big big house
Is my Father’s house.


I love this, and I don’t even play football. Here is God, feeding his kids, letting them run around in the yard, and watching the whole thing with great love and affection. I think that when my friends and I ate the bread and drank the juice after church, God was smiling at us.

Because he’s a really good father and he delights in his kids.

GOD WITH US

A long time ago I knew a couple who adopted two sisters out of the foster care system. These girls had a horrific background, resulting in emotional damage. Their adoptive parents provided them love, acceptance and counseling, and the girls made great strides, but not without struggle. Sometimes everything came crashing down.

On a particularly bad day the younger sister disappeared for hours. Her adoptive mom eventually found her in her room, curled up in the darkness of the closet. She was there, she told her mom, because when she felt overwhelmed, it helped to sit in the dark.

A lot of parents I think would have told her to stop being silly and to come out and be with the family. That’s not what this mother did. Instead she sat with her little girl in the dark until she was ready to come out. What love. What care in handling the brokenness of her daughter.

This tender example is the perfect illustration of what followers of Jesus have just celebrated – Jesus, the very Son of God, coming to be with us in the darkness, to experience our humanity and our world, and to finally sacrifice himself for us.

Timothy Keller, in Hidden Christmas, writes, “Christianity says God has been all the places you have been; he has been in the darkness you are in now, and more … In Jesus the ineffable, unapproachable God becomes a human being who can be known and loved. And, through faith, we can know this love. This does not stun us as much as it should” (italics mine).

Far from being stunned, a lot of us are extremely jaded about the fact that God Himself came to sit in the darkness with us. His goal is to bring us out of that darkness and into his light. But first he comes into our darkness, lives in our world, experiences our pain and hunger and helplessness.

This is something we should spend some time absorbing, considering how truly broken we are, how dark is our darkness, and then be absolutely overcome with amazement that the God of the universe would stoop so low. God Incarnate, God in the flesh, making his home with us. “And the Word became flesh, and lived with us.”

This amazement at Emmanuel, God With Us, ought to make us so thankful that we’re willing to sit in the darkness with others. We like to jump in with quick fixes as we quote a few Bible verses, handing them out like pills, without understanding whatever is causing the darkness, not really being “with”. I’d say most of us have been on both sides of this sad equation at one time or another – either as the glib giver of good cheer and advice, or the struggling soul left hanging desperately alone and unheard.

In this after-Christmas season, God calls us to be listeners, those who are with others in their darkness, because Jesus is with us in ours. We are called to bring the stunning realization of “God With Us” to a dark world.

WAITING FOR THE LIGHT

December, the season of twinkly lights, is paradoxically dark. The days are short. Darkness comes too early, while sunrise comes too late. It’s dark when I wake up, and dark again when I’m cooking dinner. It makes me sad.

As a child I was oblivious to this December darkness, caught up in the excitement of Christmas decorating, baking and Christmas program rehearsals. Plus the nearly unbearable anticipation of what was in those packages under the tree.

As an adult, if I’m being honest, I dread the long march to the shortest day of the year, and look forward to the day after the winter solstice, when the days start getting longer once again. The change is imperceptible at first, but the knowledge that we’ve reversed course brings me immense relief and joy. I’m happy when the holidays have gone, because spring is that much closer.

Regretfully, this celebratory time of year is tightly bound up in my struggle with darkness. But it heightens the fact that each Advent season I am very much waiting for the light, in all sorts of ways.

I think without the annual experience of darkness I wouldn’t be attuned to the significance of what it means to be longing for light, and how much I need the light of God in my soul. Human beings are looking for light, whether it’s spiritual light, sunlight, or just a nightlight in the hall on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. How desperately you need that light, and how welcome it is. You wouldn’t appreciate it nearly as much if you hadn’t first of all experienced darkness.

Around 700 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah predicted the coming Messiah, and he used the image of light. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). A few verses later, Isaiah describes this light, this deliverer, in a famous passage that is sung every Christmas – “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The Apostle John picks up the image of light in the opening to his gospel – Jesus has the light within him, the light for every person and every culture. This light is life, the life we need that only comes from him. Jesus says it himself in John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus, the light, is literally our life. His light gives us salvation and transformation, a reason to be here as we follow him in obedience and service, and resurrection hope for the future, no matter how thick the literal or figurative darkness around us.

This December feels much darker than all the Decembers of my life up to this point. We have not only physical darkness, but pandemic darkness. People we know, sick and dying. Restrictions, isolation, jobs lost, businesses going under, and kids struggling to learn online. More sunlight is coming at the end of December, but Covid darkness will stretch awhile longer. We are all waiting for the light.

What do God’s people do while they’re waiting for the light? They pray, they love, they serve others, they work to bring God’s kingdom to earth, they live in expectant hope. This isn’t easy, so sometimes they despair and get afraid. But the light is still the light. That’s why we can be quietly joyful in this season, even without all the activities we’re used to and long for. After this darkness, we will love corporate worship, family gatherings, Christmas traditions, and longer, light-filled days more than ever. Because we’ve seen and known the dark.

But even here, even now, Jesus is still the light. And his light will not be quenched.