“A child is not likely to find a father in God unless he finds something of God in his father.” ~Austin L Sorensen
Much of what we pick up on in life comes through osmosis: it is not so much learned as absorbed. I think the kind of father I had, had something to do with the way I perceive the fatherhood of God, just as being a parent and caring for my own children gave me insight into how God feels about His children.
My preacher-dad would never let us call him “father” because Jesus said, “Call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). So, I reserve that appellation for my heavenly Father. My earthly parent is my dad, my heavenly parent is my Father.
Jesus asked His disciples, “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:11-13). This reveals not only the heart of God, but His parental attentiveness. We cannot outparent God.
I have heard people talk about a crisis of faith, as if it were normal—healthy—to doubt, but not once in seven decades of life have I ever doubted God or His Word. Perhaps it was that Faith caught me early, before I was old enough to doubt. Perhaps it was that I had a dad who lived what he preached. More likely, it is because I long ago discovered, through personal experience, that “it’s real.” Spiritual reality is as discernible as physical or material reality, and only the former is eternal.
My dad had moral integrity, and the Bible was our guide in all things. Not one time in the half-century I knew him did I ever hear my dad say a bad word or tell a lie. Because profanity and lying were wrong (Exodus 20:7, 16; Revelation 21:8).
My dad went further. He would not let us use bywords. Because we would someday have to account for every idle word (Matthew 12:36), “for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (12:37). To my dad Gosh, Golly, Gee Whiz, Gees, and the like, were nothing more than euphemisms for God or Jesus, which was taking the name of the Lord in vain. D*gg*ne and d*rn were nothing more than substitutes for that four-letter d word no one dared speak.
Neither could we imitate my maternal grandfather’s “Well, for crying out loud!” All exclamatory (”For heaven’s sake!”) or unnecessary words (”to tell you the truth”) were banned. My dad took literally “But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: anything more than these is of the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
Even our choice of words he censored—no slang or vulgar speech. No coarse language. No wild disparage of others. No using the n word. No calling anyone stupid, idiot, moron, or fool (Matthew 5:22)—yes, David, Solomon, Jesus and Paul did use the word fool, it appears more than sixty times in the KJV Bible—but calling people names wasn’t nice. It might hurt someone’s feelings.
Not all counseling takes place in therapy or has to do with psychology. Some occurs extemporaneously. In the home. My dad, for example, was the one who took us to the grocery store and showed us how to pick out fruit. Bananas were supposed to be short and fat and more yellow than green. Watermelon and cantaloupe had a certain sound when thumped, and the stem was not supposed to be green (green meant it was picked green, and you wanted it vine-ripened). Everything we ate had to be wholesome. No junk food. My mother gave us Kool-Aid; my dad gave us milk.
So, when I read that God told the Israelites what to eat and what not to eat (Leviticus 11:4-29), I had no problem with it—it was like Daddy telling us what to eat. Fish with scales and fins (cod, flounder, haddock, ocean perch, salmon, trout, tuna, and whiting) was good; shellfish (clams, crabs, lobster, mussels, and shrimp) and catfish were not. Of course, scientists have now discovered what the Creator knew all along, that fish with scales and fins have a digestive system that prevents the absorption of poisons and toxins. So they are safe to eat. Scavengers like catfish, sharks, and barracuda are bottom feeders and have digestive systems that do absorb poisons; so they are toxic.
Roadkill was not good food (Leviticus 7:24; 22:8) nor exotic food (Leviticus 11:13-20). Neither was anything creepy (Leviticus 11:43, 44). Amen?
Neither was animal fat (Leviticus 3:16, 17; 7:23; 16:25) or blood (Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:12-14; 19:26), which is the reason I order my steak well done and drain my hamburgers before I place them on a bun.
The Word was not mere literature; it was a how-to manual for everyday living, which is the reason we need practical teachings as well as doctrinal teachings in the church. Both are in Scripture.
My dad was also a carpenter, a plumber, a construction worker, a handyman. He taught me how to make a batch of concrete; how to hang sheetrock; how to grout tile, apply mortar, and caulk window; how to pick out a ten-penny nail; which was a Phillips head screwdriver; and how to winterize a house. A gardener, he had all of us working the fields on his pet projects. We helped with hoeing, sowing, seeding, planting, watering, harvesting, shucking, canning, cooking, and preserving. We knew how to put the garden to bed for the winter with straw.
Now, working the soil and putting up with his pastimes (he would lie in bed at night and look at his wish book: his seed catalog) could have been a chore if it were not for the fact that we adored our dad. “We love[d] him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). If he had asked us to sleep in the fields, in the dead of winter, I suppose we would have thought it fun merely because he asked. Nothing he asked of us was ever hard, such was our devotion to him. So with God: “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3; cf Matthew 11:30). “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is a light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23).
My dad was always giving instruction. And not just in spiritual things. For instance, he showed me how to sweep: I was not supposed to flick the broom, I was to drag it so it would not stir dust. “Here, let me show you,” he would say. If I was lucky, he would finish the job before he finished the instruction.
This carefulness with small things is the way I interpret the Mosaic law. To some people the Law is burdensome, but to me “The Law is holy, and the commandments holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). I have no problem with it: it is just Daddy. In the Law, which, apart from the ceremonial law and worship, is mostly hygiene, sanitation, and morality, God was merely instructing His people how to live, the way a good dad instructs a child.
God was particular about washing one’s hands (Leviticus 22:6), taking a bath (Exodus 15:16-18; Deuteronomy 23:10, 11), and grooming your space (Deuteronomy 23:12-14)—He wanted the place kept clean or He was not going to visit. God was particular about homeschooling (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), respecting one’s elders (Leviticus 19:32), paying restitution (Exodus 22:3, 6, 7), caring for widows and orphans (Exodus 22:22, 23), not getting tattooed (Leviticus 19:28), not showing partiality (Leviticus 19:15), not hating individuals (Leviticus 19:17) but loving them (19:18), not bearing a grudge (19:18), not telling tales or gossiping (Leviticus 19:16), being kind to strangers (Leviticus 19:10, 34; Deuteronomy 24:17-22), and building one’s roof so persons did not fall off and get hurt (Deuteronomy 22:8).
All of that is in the Mosaic law. What is so bad about it that people grouse? It is not heavy. So, when someone wants to get on God’s case, I become defensive, as if the reader were picking on my dad. Don’t they get it? Can’t they see He was being paternal? Do you know when a dad is abusive? When he does not care. When he neglects or abandons his child. When he is mean-spirited or tyrannical. But a good dad gives instruction (Proverbs 1:8; 4:1; 8:10, 33), and “a wise son hears his father’s instruction” (Proverbs 13:1).
We are so out of it when it comes to the Old Testament! Yes, God talked about purity (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:9-12), moral impurity (Leviticus 18:19-30; 20:10-26; Deuteronomy 23:2), spiritual impurity (Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 24:19), honesty (Deuteronomy 25:15, 16), usury (Deuteronomy 23:19, 20), ethics, holiness (Leviticus 11:45; 20:7, 26), and capital punishment; but that was not being oppressive. That was providing order in society and telling persons how to live fruitful and productive lives. Didn’t your dad ever instruct you?
God says, “If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, and will do that which is right in His sight, and will give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases on you … for I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26). This was not a threat but a promise.
God was not tyrannical. He disliked tyranny (Leviticus 25:43, 46). Rather, He was “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy …. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them who fear Him” (Psalm 103:8, 13).
My mother used to say that if there was one thing my dad was good at, it was child care. The scripture that reads, “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you’ (Isaiah 66:13), I understand mostly from observing my dad. If there was one thing I caught from him, it was his deep feeling, compassion, for his children. He could not stand to see anyone suffer, least of all one of us. He would rather be pained twenty times over himself as to see one of us hurt or in need.
The prophet wrote of God, “In all their affliction He was afflicted … in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9). Another wrote, “It is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not, They are new every morning; great is His faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22, 23).
It is not hard for me to believe that a loving, compassionate heavenly Father pities His children—my earthly father pitied his. We—not his projects, but his children—were his passion. Which made him tractable—entreatable. We knew his soft spot: us. This inevitably taught me about the love of God. As there was no fear in approaching my dad, so there is no fear in approaching God. For “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:8).
“The love of a wife to her husband may begin from the supply of her necessities, but afterwards she may love him also for the sweetness of his person; so the soul first loves Christ for salvation but when she is brought to Him and finds what sweetness there is in Him then she loves Him for Himself.” ~Richard Sibbes (1577-1635)
Once, when I was young, a circus came to town. Everyone was going to the circus—I thought. My dad said, “No, you can’t go.” I went anyway. I did not enjoy it. All the kids I thought were coming, didn’t. No one I knew was there, and I felt anxious and guilty because my dad had not given me permission.
I walked the couple miles home—it was late, around sundown—and when I came over the hill, there was Daddy waiting at the garden gate, on his face both a scowl of anger and a look of relief that I had finally come in. I was trembling with fear. Surely, he would tan my hide good!
He shook his head. “You went to that circus, didn’t you? after I told you not to?” I nodded. “No, I’m not going to spank you. Get in the house. Your mother’s been waiting dinner. We were worried when you didn’t come.” To this day I’ve never been to another circus. The incident taught me both the wrath of a dad and the mercy of a dad, and, by extension, of the Father.
God has standards, and He gets mad, but He is tractable—“peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy” (James 3:17), for we are “the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8).
My dad, a wrestler in the Navy, loved outdoor sports like horseshoes and softball and indoor pastimes like a game of checkers (something he enjoyed at the barber shop). And he was almost addicted to broadcast and telecast sports: he could watch football on the TV while simultaneously listening to baseball on the radio, and keep track of both games. When Army played Navy, since he had served in each branch of service, I’d ask which one he favored. “Oh, whichever one I think will win.”
Daddy regularly encouraged us to get fresh air and exercise. If we did not do it on our own, he would come up with something to get us out of the house. At one pastorate, he cleared a couple acres of ground and kept it mowed so we could play croquet. We put up the wickets. Far apart. Like golf. And the way we handled the mallet was not your usual croquet. We would swing those mallets like golf clubs and swagger long-leggedly as if we were on a golf course.
The only other sport at which I was any good was soccer. When I kicked a ball, it hollered “Mercy.”
My favorite exercise these days is walking. And the Bible has something to say about that. “Walk in all the ways the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may be well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:33; Jeremiah 7:23). “Walk in the fear of God” (Nehemiah 5:9). “Your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21)—that’s God the coach talking. “This [then] is love, that we walk after His commandments” (2 John 6). “See then that you walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5:15).
Do you know what “circumspectly” means? It is like driving the Overseas Highway to Key West, Florida, without guard rails. Or driving up Pike’s Peak, Colorado, without guard rails. There is little margin for error.
Another thing I learned from my dad was thrift. My dad was careful with little things, like pennies, nickels, and dimes. Of course, it was an era when those little things were worth more than they are today. So we learned to count pennies—did you ever notice that people who know how to count pennies are wiser with dollars? We picked out economical stores and products. My mother was smart with clothes, and she knew fabrics (how they would hang and whether or not they needed special care or dry cleaning). It was the era of ironing, dry cleaning, pressed slacks, white shirts, handkerchiefs (not Kleenex), overcoats, scarfs, mittens, hats, shined shoes, galoshes, raincoats, and umbrellas—people dressed more formally in those days. My dad knew where to go for shoe repair, and often little tears or holes could be mended for a dime or a quarter.
The prophet asked, “Who has despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10). Jesus said that those who are “faithful over a few things” God will make “ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:21).
My dad did not covet. Coveting was sin (Exodus 20:17; Romans 13:9). Also his wanter was not big (Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:8; Hebrews 13:5). He would rather give than get.
When I was a child, at our church there was an offering plate on each end of the altar: one, at one end, for missions; and another, at the other end, for orphans. After Sunday school we had a “penny march.” We would walk by the altar and drop a penny in one or both plates. Each Sunday, while we were getting dressed, my dad would give us children a linen handkerchief. In one corner of the handkerchief he would tie a nickel for the Sunday school offering; in another corner, a penny for missions; in still another corner, a penny for orphans. If he was short on change, he would tell us to be sure and put the penny in the missions offering, not the orphans offering.
“Why, Daddy? You were an orphan. Don’t you care about orphans?”
“Because people—even sinners—will give to little children—they have that much feeling—but only God’s people will give to missions. It is our responsibility to send the Light.”
My mother would tower over us and talk down to us; but my dad would get down on his haunches, as he called it, so he could look us in the eye. He came down to our level. He didn’t treat us as children; he treated us as pals, his special friends, in whom he delighted.
So Jesus told the disciples: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends … You are My friends if you do what I command” (John 15:15, 14 NIV).
Every family man is the high priest of his own home. So another thing I learned from my dad was hallowing the Sabbath and keeping faith. We went to church all the time. There were two Sunday services (morning and evening) and two midweek services (prayer meeting and young people’s meeting), plus other weekly and monthly meetings, revivals, camp meetings, youth camp, conferences, and church suppers. Whether we liked it or not, whether we had homework or not, whether we were sick or not, we went to church.
One Sunday, when I was a preschooler, I had a blister on my heel and I could not wear my shoes. “I’m not going,” I told my dad.
“Well, you certainly are,” he said. “You’ll just go barefoot.”
“Barefoot? I can’t go to church barefoot! I’d be embarrassed.”
“What difference does it make? You’re just a kid.”
“I am not a kid! I’m a person!”
Laughing at my foolishness, he picked me up, threw me over his shoulder, and went out the door. There was no excuse for missing church.
In our church, we did not have to worry about being lonely or ignored. We knew everybody. We knew their surname, their first name, their middle name, their age, their birthday, their height, their weight, their favorite foods, their hobbies, how they liked their coffee, who they were kin to, where they lived, what they did for a living, what they owned, what was paid for and what was not, what were their talents and aspirations, how well they could cook, how they were getting along, how the children were doing in school, and whether or not they were sick or well. There was no secret. Everybody knew everybody else’s business, as if we were all family. Which we were—we were the family of God (Ephesians 3:15; Romans 12:4, 5).
My dad taught us that our real family was not our kinfolk. “The church people are your family,” he would say, because we had blood relatives who were not in the church. He believed “come out from among them, and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17) “from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26), even as Abraham separated Isaac from his “unsaved” brothers (Genesis 25:5, 6) and even as Moses separated himself from Egypt (Hebrews 11:24-26).
Another thing I absorbed from my parents was Christian service. Everyone had to do his part to keep the church functioning. A teenager, I helped to debone roast beef to make barbecue sandwiches for the church supper. I helped make and sell apple cider for the ladies auxiliary. I helped with childcare. I started an after-school kids club for students younger than myself.
This was interesting as our next-door neighbor was a Catholic housewife with sons. She and my dad had become friends, and on summer evenings she and he would talk out in the garden. We considered them good people.
When I opened the door for a kids club, her youngest son showed up with the other neighborhood children. I told him he’d better check this out with his mother as we were not Catholic, we were Protestant, and we would be studying the KJV Bible.
The next meeting he was back. With a brand-new KJV Bible.
“Did you talk this over with your mother?”
He nodded. “She said it was alright, that you were good people.”
When a Sunday schoolteacher was needed for the junior class, my dad enlisted me.
“Me?” I asked with incredulity. “I’m just a kid!”
“You can do it,” he said. “You study the Bible with us, and you know more than anyone else I can call on. You can do it.”
My dad grounded me in the Bible and taught me theology. Pentecostal distinctives—signs following believers (Mark 16:15-18)—was good, but the Great Commission—making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20)—was better.
Water baptism was good—my dad believed and practiced adult baptism by immersion (Acts 2:38; 16:30-33)—but salvation was better (Romans 10:9).
Communion was good—my dad observed the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-29)—but salvation was better.
Divine healing was good—my dad prayed for the sick (James 5:14, 15) and they recovered—but salvation was better.
Speaking in tongues was good—my dad preached and practiced glossolalia (1 Corinthians 14:18, 19) and exercised spiritual gifts—but salvation was better.
A person could go to heaven without being baptized, without receiving Communion, without being healed, and without speaking in tongues; but he could not go to heaven without being born again (John 3:3). The vital imperative was to get people saved.
I cannot say for sure, but I believe this passion for souls was born out of his seeing soldiers die in Europe and knowing shipmates who lost their life at Pearl Harbor. When you’ve seen loved ones, or peers, go out into eternity without God, you realize that the thing that matters most is salvation. Everything else pales in light of eternity.
His primary example was the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), who was never baptized in water, never given Communion, and never spoke in other tongues, but who entered paradise.
His secondary example was his own conversion. He never lost the wonder of that night when God reached down to a sin-weary young man, washed him clean, and “brought him up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set his feet on a Rock, and established his goings” (Psalm 40:1-3). His favorite song was “When He Reached Down His Hand for Me.”
For this reason my dad was an ardent soul-winner. He would “go out into the highways and hedges and compel” persons to come in (Luke 14:23). He pursued the unchurched.
The Bible says, “He who wins souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30). “They that be wise—” Who is wise? “He who wins souls.”—“They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3). “Let him know that he who converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
When it came to the message itself, my dad was uncompromising. He would say, “Anyone can get a bigger audience by watering down the message, as if salvation were easy, but we’re not going to do that. Keep the message tough. Make it mean something.” Because he believed in repentance, true conversion, followed by a clean, holy life. “If they have no changes, they fear not God” (Psalm 55:19).
In his old age, my dad was walking around the house, one day, naming converts, saying to my mother, “Remember So-and-So? He was one of those we brought in.” My mother, who had learned to tune out his idle chatter, wasn’t paying much attention. I was. His expression “brought him in” struck me as interesting. Reminiscing about one convert would lead to another name, and yet another. “We got him in too” reminded me of the little chorus we used to sing:
Bring them in, bring them in,
Bring them in from the fields of sin.
Bring them in, bring them in,
Bring the wandering ones to Jesus.
My dad had brought numbers of them into the fold.
There are practical teachings in both Old Testament and New Testament. One practical teaching was submission to authority. Like a man under orders (cf Luke 7:1-9; 2 Timothy 2:3, 4), my dad never questioned his pastoral appointment, though he did sometimes request a transfer.
Another practical teaching was mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21). My dad taught us to defer one to another—to take second place graciously—to “be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another … distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality” (Romans 12:10, 13), “generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18 NAS).
As for himself, my dad was the most deferential person I have ever met. This was not false humility. This was the way he saw himself. He would say, “You go ahead.” “You choose.” “What do you think?” He would let others be seated or prepare their plate, and he would take whatever was left. In the half-century I knew him, I never once saw him assert his own rights.
Consequently, I suppose, he was never given any higher leadership assignment than pastor or superviser. My mother moaned that he had no ambition—because he was not self-seeking (cf 1 Corinthians 13:5). He really didn’t want the responsibility. If he’d wanted it, he would’ve gone after it. This passivity did not mean he was milquetoast. He was assertive in guiding us children, in heading the household, and in pastoring the church.
Surely, this taught me the nature of Christ Himself “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took on the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Jesus was no more a wimp than was my dad. Both, by their submission, exhibited that higher principle of self-sacrifice. Jesus taught, “Whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27, 28).
“The true shepherd spirit is an amalgam of many precious graces. He is hot with zeal, but he is not fiery with passion. He is gentle, and yet he rules his class. He is loving, but he does not wink at sin. He has power over the lambs, but he is not domineering or sharp. He has cheerfulness, but not levity; freedom, but not license; solemnity, but not gloom.” ~Charles Spurgeon
As the 19th-century schoolteacher cleaned her own chalkboard, picked up after the children, and swept the schoolhouse, so, in his country pastorates, my dad was often his own janitor. It was he, not a custodian, who early on Sunday morning, went over to the meetinghouse to fire up the furnace and preheat the building. It was he who, in winter, got up in the middle of the night, not once, but several times, went down into the cold, dark cellar, shoveled in a fresh load of coal, and poked the fire. It was he, not my mother, who checked on us children during the night and made sure we were covered up and had the blanket tucked under our chin, not over our head, so we could breathe. Like the heavenly Father, my dad “worked the night shift.”
As head of household, our dad was our security guard and our guardian. He acted as a filter, to keep out unwanted guests. Everything that came into the family had to pass through him to reach us.
When my sister was dating a young man, off and on, my dad did not like the fact that this particular youth in the church would swing back and forth between two young ladies, one of them my sister. Finally my dad waylaid him and said, “Which of these girls do you like better? Make up your mind. Because I do not like you toying with my daughter’s affection.” My dad was making that young man answerable to him. From then on, that youth could not get to my sister without going through her dad. (He married the other girl.)
So it is with us and God: everything has to pass through the heavenly Father before it can reach us. This is most visible in the life of Job. Satan could not touch him without going through God. Neither can Satan touch you and me without God’s permission.
The family and I looked to our dad not only as our guardian, but also as our source. Didn’t you? Dad was the wage-earner, the provider, the emergency-contact person.
Perhaps because we lived up North and were often snowed in, my dad hoarded a stockpile of stuff in a colder part of the house, where it would be well preserved, in case we ran out and needed something in a hurry. There in that spot—which we never tracked down, but we knew existed—he would have apples, raw nuts, oranges, bananas, potatoes, canned vegetables, coffee, chocolate, and cash.
In the evening, while we were listening to the humble AM radio—nestled in the mountains, it picked up one station, thankfully, Christian—he would walk out of the kitchen, paring knife in hand, with a fresh apple, would pare and cut a thick slice, and hand it to us to eat. If we ran out of something, there was more in his larder, and it seemed he delighted in surprising us with a random supply of whatever we needed, just when we needed it.
“Why, I didn’t know you had that! Where did that come from?” And he would smile that he had foreseen the need and made provision.
In the same way, God is our source. He provides. He has foreseen and made provision. He takes care of our natural life as a good dad takes care of his children. “He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
Fifty years ago winters in the Alleghenies were events. It was not unusual for someone headed home at night to slip off the road, to be buried in snow, and have to be dug out the next morning by the snowplow. Farmers even made snow tunnels between the house and the barn so they could milk the cows in the morning. I had heard locals talk about snow over the telephone poles; I thought they were exaggerating or ribbing me. I did not see it for myself until Christmas, 1963, when it snowed forty inches a night for a week or more. The drifts were over the telephone poles, and the snowplow had made a tunnel through the snow. When you drove along the highway, overhead was a canopy of snow.
An earlier winter, when the snowfall was relentless, the snowplow stopped trying to keep up with the blizzard. All along the route, snow was lying about a yard deep. Untouched. Our church clerk was unable to get the tithes to my dad, and so he thought to walk to her house.
“I wanna go with,” I told him eagerly. The clerk had teenage children who were friends of mine.
He sighed. Probably thinking I’d slow him down. Or maybe he wanted to be alone, as he often was out-of-doors. “Now, why would you want to do that? The snow is deep. How are you going to tread a yard of fresh snow?”
I had fur-lined snow boots but no snow shoes—those tennis rackets you wear on your feet. “If you can do it, I can too.” And I did. We walked up Scratch Hill together, taking the tallest steps our short frames would make, punching leg-deep holes in the white landscape.
Coming back, I slipped and fell. My dad said, “Here, take my hand. Hold on to me.” And we walked the rest of the journey arm in arm, me trusting to his more sure-footedness.
Need I tell you what this taught me of my heavenly Father? How He “is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24)? How He is our ever-present “help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16)?
Having had a meaningful relationship with my earthly dad, I understand the filial comfort in those words “The Everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6).
Because I knew a dad who was paternal, I understand the meaning of “the eternal God is [our] refuge”—not our czar or our caesar, but our refuge—our Daddy, “whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).
Because I had a dad I could trust, I can rest in knowing that “underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
When Jesus lived on earth, His home and usual stomping ground was Galilee. He and the disciples attended the annual feasts in Judea. Once, at least, He went to the Mediterranean, on the coast, for a little R&R; this was the place where the Syrophoenician found Him. On another occasion He had a ministry in Perea.
When He and the disciples journeyed outside Galilee, Jesus would send advance men to take care of accommodations and meals. But at His last meal before the Crucifixion, Jesus told His companions, “This time I am going away. Where I’m going, you can’t go now. You can come later” (John 13:36-38).
“This time,” Jesus said, “I’m going to be the gofer. I’m going to be the advance man and see to meals and accommodations. Because we’re going to My Father’s house. He has a big place with a lot of rooms. And I’m going ahead ‘to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. Where I’m going you know, and the way you know’ ” (John 14:1-4).
Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way?” (14:5).
Jesus answered, “I am the Way” (14:6). “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19).
Peter, who had been present on that occasion, later wrote, “Christ left us an example, that we should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
After he died, I looked down on the empty shell that had once housed my dad. He wasn’t there. He was gone. “Where did you go? I wanna go with.” It had never been his plan to leave us orphaned as He had once been orphaned. It was understood that though he went on ahead, eventually we would all be together again. He had taught us his version of the old spiritual:
Oh, come and go with me up to my Father’s house,
Up to my Father’s house, up to my Father’s house.
Oh, come and go with me up to my Father’s house;
Where there’s peace, peace, peace!
All we had to do was follow.
Not long after he died, I dreamed I saw my dad at a dining table, enjoying a big, casual family meal, like we used to have for Sunday dinners. He was beaming with joy, and looked more radiant than I’d ever seen him. My eyes grew big. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Dead?” he said with a wide smile. “Why, I’m more alive than I’ve ever been!”
When I told the dream to my mother, she asked, “How old was he?”
“Oh, 23, 24, 25 … younger than I’d ever seen him.”
“That’s what I’ve heard,” she said. “That we’ll be forever young.” Then, “That was God.”
Later someone said, “Don’t you want to go and see your inheritance?” It sounded so crass. As far as I was concerned, I’d already received my inheritance: my dad. My dad was my inheritance. He was more than his gifts.
And so, it is with my Father. He is more than His gifts. The Twelve left all and followed Jesus (Luke 18:28) and never looked back. Peter later confessed, “To us who believe He is precious” (1 Peter 2:7). Certain women, devoted to Him, ministered to Him of their substance (Luke 8:1-3). Mary neglecting her chores, sat at His feet and heard His word (Luke 10:38-42). The woman with the alabaster box washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, sacrificed the most costly thing in her possession, lavishing it on Him (Luke 7:36-50). Barnabas sold his house and gave the money to the apostles (Acts 4:36, 37). Paul, accomplished and lauded, trained at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), Pharisee of the Pharisees (Acts 23:6), if he had any, trashed his plaudits, his awards, his medals, his degrees, “counted all things as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus … And do count them but dung … That I may know Him” (Philippians 3:7-10).
What would you give to know Him?
“This is life eternal, that we might know Him, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent” (John 17:3). ~Alexandra Lee
Copyright © 2009-2016 Alexandra Lee