God the Father: Grace and Truth

Devotional reflections on the Father from John’s gospel


Scripture


This morning’s full reading can be found here

‘and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

John 1:14 

Observation

To begin with, let’s ask a couple of questions about this verse: What is glory and whose glory have we seen? 

Glory; it’s a hard word to properly define and explain. It’s a word that’s similar to majesty except less inseparable from royalty, and it’s shinier in appearance. The dictionary uses words like resplendent, honour, praiseworthy to describe it. It could also be simplified to mean ‘value’ or ‘worth’ and in this sense John (the writer of this gospel) is saying, ‘we have seen his value.‘ or ‘we have seen how worthy he is’.

But whose value or worth is John talking about? We can’t just assume we know the answer to this.

The answer John provides is ‘glory as of the only son from the Father’, and what I find so fascinating here is the way that it reads – only son from the Father – it sounds like a title or name. Jesus is (take a deep breath) the ‘only-son-from-the-Father’, rather like how many of my friends from Africa have names that actually mean something, like my friend Msizi, who’s name (Msisiwhethu) means ‘God is my helper’.

Jesus is the one who isn’t just called ‘The-Only-Son-From-The-Father’, he actually lives up to it. He is the only one whose entire life and being can claim to be like that of the Father’s enough that it can be said of him that ‘he’s the true son’. Based purely on Jesus’ character, behaviour and life God the Father could say (and does) ‘you’re a true son’.

Understanding this is important, and understanding it means that whatever we can say about Jesus’ character we can say about his Father. Jesus has always been ‘Son’, therefore it is true that God has also always been ‘Father’. God is a creator and a ruler, but before he was those things (before he made anything or ruled over anything) he was still Father.

Finally it can also be said that since Jesus is ‘full of grace and truth’ the Father is also, or more accurately – the reason the Son is FULL (bursting to overflowing) of grace and truth, is precisely because the Father is.

This is our God and as one author puts it: ‘there is no God behind Jesus’ back.’


Application:

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that the Son is different in character to the Father; that the Son is approachable and the Father austere, that the Son is full of grace and the Father lacking in it.

This is not the case and we must adjust our thinking about the Father if we’re to know him as he really is, rather than as we’ve come to think he is by taking our lead from the poor imitations of him we are surrounded by.

If this is a problem for you why not use today’s prayer to begin a ‘decluttering’ of wrong ideas about the Father:

Prayer


Thank you Father that you are FULL of grace and truth. Help me to ‘get my head around that’. Help me to know you as you actually are, not as I’ve been conditioned to think you are. Help me to see how you manage to hold both grace and truth in tension and aren’t soft or lacking in either of them. Help me as well to behave like you toward others and show them the kind of grace and kindness as well as truth that you have shown me.  

Life Is MEANT to be Boring

When I was a teenager I remember the horrible pressure I felt each Friday & Saturday night to be out doing something AMAZing or HILarious. And I remember the restlessness I’d feel every time I just stayed home; after all, what if people were out having fun and laughing and I wasn’t included? What if I was the butt of their joke? What if, by missing the joke, I missed out on learning what people really thought about me? Oh the anxiety and restless turmoil of those stay-at-home Saturday nights. It’s safe to say that I don’t miss teenagehood.

Times changed, I Uni’d the thirst for parties out of my system and now I have no problem staying in on a weekend; I’m really quite good and vegetating on a sofa in front of a film now.

Times have changed and so has the trigger for those emotions, but the restlessness still surfaces from time to time. Now it’s not so much about missing a party but about an opportunity, or not making the most of good health and youth. There is a reluctance in me to admit that life is a lot more mundane than I want it to be. That’s really what was going on when I was 18. I refused to admit (it couldn’t be true after all) that life wasn’t a constant weekend or a daily adrenaline/lust fuelled encounter. My restlessness was a wrestling match between reality and fantasy. I wanted life to be all consuming and intoxicating. I wanted life to exhaust me and exhilarate me and thrill me. Instead it just sort of was. Life just is and I’m a single solitary soul in the middle of an ecosystem that seems able to balance itself and sustain itself each morning just fine without me.

What I mean to say is that I think our need for adventures and for a good story is killing us. It was fine when we weren’t individuals like we are now; fine when our lives were connected more to our communities. Now that we’re expected to find a story/purpose big enough from within the confines of our own two eyes, I’m not sure we can cope. Individualism and the sovereignty of the individual is leaving red marks on our shoulders; this backpack’s too heavy to carry. I certainly can’t carry it, I don’t think I’m made to.

Left to ourselves, to myselves, life IS boring and we weren’t made for boring. There’s plenty of wonder and beauty and majesty and adventure in this world, but almost all of it takes place out there; outside ourselves shared with others.

The everyday, regular and mundane is only boring when it’s disconnected from any bigger meaning. I only need to ‘reinvent’ myself if the ‘myself’ I’ve invented is detached from the ‘ourselves’ of community/nation/family. Then again I don’t believe that community is enough either. Deriving more meaning from community/family/nation is certainly possible but I don’t believe that’s enough for us either. We are complex creatures who thirst for purpose and story; unusual since we’ve convinced ourselves that the thing we thirst for doesn’t really exist. It’s only when I see my life, and my friends and my virtue and my experiences, as things connected to ultimate reality that I start to discover a story big enough to rid me of the bored restlessness. It’s only then that my mundanes turn into memories, my chores become choruses and every routine becomes a worship ritual.

What I’m saying is that our lives (individually) matter to God. Our creator and Father takes delight in, and derives pleasure from us his creatures. He knows about the birds, he calls the sun out each day, he’s there with the mountain goats giving birth and he orchestrates the times and seasons of life under the sun. Our lives are not mean simply to become absorbed into nothingness, a corporate faceless, nameless blancmange of vanilla. He made us to be known by him, to know the pleasure he derives from us irrespective of success/achievement. Life may feel random and meaningless but it isn’t?

What if it was true that there is a story and a meaning and a reason for everything? Could it be that the reason our soul craves it is because it actually exists? After all, physical hunger exists because food does not in spite of it.

My life matters because God delights in me and my life is an adventure since he’s on an adventure and I’m with him. Life is boring when it’s about me but it isn’t, so it isn’t.

by Jez Field

God The Father: An Overview

Scripture


Today’s reading is the whole of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Since the Father is mentioned throughout the prayer we’re not going to focus on one specific verse but instead provide a birds eye overview of some of the themes Jesus draws out. Take some time now to read the chapter, making some observations of your own and then come back and go through it with me.

Observation


Verse 1 – Knowing the Father is eternal life.  This is something that is so exciting it demands a whole extra blog. You can read that blog here if you want to.

Verse 5 – The Father and the Son were together in glory (majesty and splendour) before the world began.

Verse 6 – The Father gave the Son his disciples. He gave the Son those people who are right now believing in him and following him. It can therefore be said that the disciples or believers belonged to the Father since you can’t give something you don’t have.

Verse 8 – The Father sent the Son. Jesus wasn’t acting just out of his own good idea.

Verse 9 – Jesus saw himself as a steward of the things and people that the Father had given to him.

Verse 10 – The Father shares everything with the Son.

Verse 11 – The Father is holy. Holy means pure, untouchable, unapproachable and reserved entirely for God. We also see here that the Father and the Son are one.

Verse 17 – The Father is able to sanctify, that is he is able to make holy. The Father’s word is truth.

Verse 21 – The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father.

Verse 24 – The Father has given the Son glory. The Father loved the Son before the world began.

Finally we can observe from verse 25 that the Father is righteous and that the Father is unknown by the world. The world does not know him. For all its ideas about God they fall a long way short of truthfully speaking about the Father and for all its knowledge about God they do not know the Father.

To conclude this devotional series on the Father let’s put in front of us all of the descriptions of the Father from the titles of our daily entries:

  • The Forgotten Father
  • The Father of Grace & Truth
  • The Father’s Side
  • The Father Hasn’t Walked Out On Us
  • The Father and the Son
  • The Father At Work
  • The One the Son is Tethered To
  • The Father Who Raises the Dead
  • The Father Who Honours the Son
  • The Father Who Provides Bread From Heaven
  • The Father Who Gives Eternal Life
  • The Father Who Draws People to the Son
  • The Alive and Life Giving Father
  • The Father Who Seeks His Son’s Glory
  • The Father Who Glorifies the Son
  • The Father Who Knows Me
  • The Reason the Father Loves the Son
  • The Father Who Won’t Let Go
  • The Father Who Hears the Son
  • The Father Who Honours Us
  • The Father to Trust Unto Death
  • The Slave God
  • The Father, Son & Spirit
  • The Father Death Leads U To
  • The Father is Greater than the Son
  • The Gardening Father
  • The Father to Be Known
We haven’t ‘made up’ any of these. These are all insights from the mouth of Jesus. I trust Jesus. Jesus died on Good Friday and was raised to life on Easter Sunday and is in charge of all things. Jesus can be trusted to speak truthfully about God. He is my primary basis for speaking about the Father. He is my authority for saying anything at all about God. 
Let me finish by quoting again from Doug Wilson’s masterful book ‘Father Hunger’ where he lists the attributes of God’s generosity seen in John’s gospel:

The most obvious feature of the Father is his generosity. He is generous with his glory (1:14), with tasks (5:18), with his protection (10:28-32), with his home (14:1-2), and with his joy (16:23-24). The Father gives (3:34-36). The Father gives his Son (3:16; 18:11); the Father gives his Spirit (14:16-17); the Father gives himself (14:22-24).

He then goes on to say that God is seeking worshippers who will become like he is, and what is he:

He is generous with everything. Is there anything he has that he has held back? And what should we- tangible fathers- be like? The question is terribly hard to answer, but not because it is difficult to understand.

I hope that these devotional studies have been of benefit to you. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Jez



P.S. For more devotional studies on the Father you’re welcome to visit my own blog site www.jezfield.blogspot.co.uk or come back tomorrow for a final (bonus edition) post.

Significance

I am intrigued by the significance of significance. Many of us seem to be engaged in an all consuming, never-ending search for satisfaction in this area. We want to believe that we matter; we need to believe it.

Personally it surprises me how much of my inner life has to do with the pursuit of feeling worthwhile and valuable. It’s as though somewhere along the line my will made a secret pact with my emotions to work together to manipulate and manoeuvre every thing I do to basically be about serving that end.

I watched The Truman Show when I was a teenager and was convinced for a while that it was true of my life. I stared into a marble once at home saying ‘hello!’ to the people behind the camera. It didn’t seem much of a leap for me to believe that I was the centre of the world’s attention, that the world basically exists to watch me and make me a star. Urgh I cringe even to write those words, but if I’m honest I can still see those same sentiments lurking.

I blame my parents. No wait, I blame their parents; I mean if they hadn’t unleashed on all these baby boomers a newfound sense of ‘life is short, so go remake it in your image’ then I wouldn’t be so downright self obsessed and consumed by ideas of personal grandeur.

Here’s my theory, and actually I blame Hitler – that’s how to really win an argument: My grandparents’ generation, traumatised by the brutality of the second World War, commodified sex by inventing the contraceptive pill and released on their children an attitude of Total Consumerism in a way never before seen. Nothing was going to stop them from grabbing life and running with it. Their experience could be remade in their image.

The values unleashed (literally removed from a leash) by my grandparents are only now starting to find their fruition in my generation. And what does all of this amount to, our obsession for experience and consumption? Significance, a life-consuming craving for it.

That’s my theory, except that it’s flawed.

I can’t blame Hitler for my approval addiction. This goes way beyond him. Presently we’re getting used to a slightly more unbridled (unhinged?) version of something that’s always been there. A desire for legacy and significance is what drove Achilles to fight in a battle he knew he’d die in after all.

Perhaps there’s some evolutionary hardwiring at work; yes that’s how we explain everything now isn’t it – evolution is our grand guiding philosophy. It’s my DNA, my selfish genes drive me to it – ironically even my jeans are selfish since I don’t know how ethically they’ve been made. What I mistake as a search for significance is really an inner drive to procreate, continue my line and enhance the wellbeing of my tribe. The trouble is I’ve produced three children, have a good reputation in my community, have the respect of my wife and friends and am materially and physically well-off. I am ludicrously rich by globals standards and have very little real need in my life. And yet it still isn’t enough. My mind still ‘relaxes’ by comparing my status with that of my peers, my mind is forever trying to convince me (or have me believe) that the grass is much greener in some other field, some other town, some other job, some other choice or cause and effect outcome. I must be the centre of the universe, I must be significant. I am forever restless until I arrive at being eternally recognised as significant.

I am surprised by how moveable the goalposts of significance are in my life. I had an idea when I was a teenager of what a significant life involved, it became the quest of my subconsciousness to attain it. Back then it was some talent I simply had to master in order to matter, and then (when I realised my own mediocrity) it was a job I simply had to have. After that it became about having a reputation, that people spoke well of me. Then (when I realised how dissatisfying that is – because who’s ever around to hear people say nice things about you? I mean there’s nothing fulfilling in not overhearing a conversation) it then became about something else… All of it, always searching for significance and never quite reaching it.

You know that feeling of holding a plastic ball under water? It’s like that. The ball is fighting to find its proper balance, to rest on the surface of the water. Life is like that, always fighting to find rest in the form of significance and purpose and peace with the world whilst being in the world.

I’ve found one particular ancient writer’s words make sense of this best:
You have formed us for yourselves and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.
And that is the real quest going on.

by Jez Field

Kissing Or Microbe Exchange?

The Bible is honest about the nature of reality and about the nature of faith. It doesn’t hide the tension that exists between faith and doubt. In doing so it acknowledges that miraculous moments can also just as easily be explained rationally, if one would prefer. When I look at circumstances and coincidences I often wonder, ‘was that God or was that me?’. I want to be sure that it was God who answered my prayer and not just capricious chance. But then maybe I needn’t force a distinction between the two.

Events can have a physical and a personal explanation. Or, one friend of mine puts it, we don’t have to choose between kissing and microbe exchange.

When someone brings an insight into my life and prefaces it with the words ‘I believe God might be saying…’ I wrestle with the question ‘was that God? Or were they just good at reading my mood?’ Did God just speak to me or did the extra dairy they ate make them a little bit more creative?

Do I need to choose between ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’? Between ‘God’ or ‘man’. Why can’t it be both? Take the creation of the universe for example. It is often presented as either 1) natural forces at work, something came exist where previously there was nothing = Big Bang or 2) God did it.

But then it needn’t be either, or; it can be both.

Did the universe come about through natural means following a Big Bang? Yes. Did God create it? Yes.
Did God speak to me through a friend’s encouragement? yes. Did that person read my mood and speak into it? yes.

Jesus is a man who divides opinion. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the time that Jesus’s ability to heal the sick wasn’t always well received. Some people celebrated his ability to heal (not least the sick people being healed!) whereas some accused him of ‘being in league with the Devil.’ (note the honesty of the Bible in recording this, it needn’t have done so).

Christopher Hitchens was a man who, until his death, was a prominent figure in the new atheist movement. He was known for his lively writing style, his pithy put-downs and his unashamed slamming of religious belief, he wasn’t a fan of faith. His brother Peter Hitchens is a British columnist and an active member of the Church of England. He is a former atheist and now ‘fan’ of faith, specifically, Jesus. Two people, one family, opposite views on the world. One of the cleverest men alive, Stephen Hawking is an atheist. One of the cleverest men alive, Alvin Plantinga is a theist. Many of the world’s leading scientists are atheists, some are Christians. Many influential cultural and political leaders are atheists, many more are theists in one form or another.

The line between faith and unbelief or Christianity and atheism isn’t as clear or distinct as we think.

After Jesus’ resurrection but before his ascension he appeared to his followers on a mountain in Galilee. Matthew’s account records what happened like this: When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.

On the day of Pentecost in 33AD God breaks into a prayer meeting with dramatic effect. The Holy Spirit filled the room and empowered the disciples to be effective witnesses for Christ. Peter stands up to address the crowd and preaches about Jesus. Many in the crowd are convinced and turn to follow Jesus, some simply mock him and say ‘he’s drunk on fresh wine!’

There is something else at work it seems in the interpreting of events. Some people, it seems, are willing to believe that an event is from God whereas others are not. It isn’t down to intelligence and it isn’t always down to upbringing or parenting. In our read of the world there are conflicting desires. There is our pride and independence, the desire for others to think and speak well of us. Then there is our desire for meaning and purpose, an innate sentimentalism and bias toward supernaturalisms. Our own will and our own willingness.

At work within our interpretation of facts there is the difference between ‘can I’ and ‘must I’. If I want something to be true I’ll ask the ‘can I’ question, ‘Can I believe in a personal loving God? Could one exist?’ answer: yes. But if I don’t want God to be there I ask the ‘must I’ variety; ‘must I believe in God? Do I have to acknowledge his being there?’ answer: no.

That can either make you a relativist, throw your arms up in the air and say ‘what’s the point in considering it then?’ or (and this would be my suggestion) it can make us a little more humble and open-minded, a little more patient with the ideas of others. It should also make us a little more skeptical of our own emotional agendas. The chances are that if I want something to be true (or not true), then I’ll find plenty of solid ‘reason’ to back up and support my belief.

Since events can have a physical and a personal explanation for them, why not make room for and allow both explanations? Don’t deny the presence of doubt in the life of faith, but don’t herald the redundancy of faith in the world of reason.

Let’s opt to live in a world of both, and. Call it ‘microbe exchange’ if you like, but I’ll stick with ‘kissing’.

by Jez Field.