It's when you miss family milestones like this that you feel the miles between you most acutely. At times like these the gift of technology, which normally makes the world seem so much smaller, just comes up short. Gestures of affection and honor that are in the heart are somehow compressed and truncated in words over a phone line. With that in mind, I'd like to amplify the gratitude I have to God for my Dad, by sharing some of his rare qualities with more than just him.
Most fathers, even if they are bad fathers, have some attribute through which we can glimpse one of the attributes of God the Father. Learning to honor our fathers is learning to look for that attribute, even if there is only one, that is like God and focussing upon it, instead of those aspects that may not be like God. We only have one Holy Father. He is in heaven. He alone can fill the gaps and heal the wounds that our earthly fathers left. However, there are some fathers who in their humanity, manage to give us a very full glimpse of what God the Father is really like. This, by God's profound grace, is what my Dad has been to me.
The most obvious God-attribute in my Dad's life is his faithfulness. My father is literally, a faith patriarch because of his faithfulness. He was a first generation Christian, in a salt-of-the earth, pillar-of-society family. Born again was what they called it in those days, just before the term Jesus Freak became a popular critique of those who were uncompromising in their faith. My father honored his parents wonderfully, but he made some very costly stands as a young teenager who had met his Savior, and now purposed to follow him as Lord. He was one who would not simply enjoy the grace of God. He also began to grow in the fear of God. He has shown resolute faithfulness to his wife, to his call, and to God's truth for as long as I have known him. I believe it is in part due to this faithfulness that both his parents came to put their trust in Jesus too.
I know that Dad's faith convictions have ruffled some feathers amongst the family from time to time. At times he was criticized for being unreasonable, and for taking his faith too far. But my Dad's unwavering convictions set the course of a life of costly obedience and remarkable kingdom import. "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, praise the Lord!" could well be the theme song of my Dad's life. His resolute faithfulness to Jesus, setting his face like flint in the face of opposition, has likely been his most powerful example to me. I have watched him take on a whole denomination on the issue of believer's baptism at great cost to his own ministry and reputation, and more recently on the issue of homosexuality. His sharp mind and clear writing and speaking gift have helped him. But more than this is his fear of the Lord. He has honestly lived for an audience of One.
This faithful courage is held in beautiful tension with another Godly attributes. My Dad is not just a truth teller. He is a truth seeker. This combination is rarely found in the same person. Most truth tellers are so convinced of their truth that you feel they have nothing new to learn. Not my Dad! He is always listing and always learning, which is why he loves to have deep conversations. His language of love is the language of robust conversation! If you want to give him a gift for his birthday, have a robust, deep conversation with him. When you get into a conversation with him, sometimes it feels like getting into a boxing ring because he does not suffer fools gladly. You had better have your thoughts straight or you are going to take a logical/theological beating. But he is really listening and inviting you to challenge him. He is not trying to score points or win a fight. He genuinely believes he can grow from talking and listening. I love that about my Dad. I have been so sharpened and strengthened by sparring with him, and strangely enough, over they years we have come to see the world through a very similar lens. He is my Dad, but we are theological and philosophical brothers-in-arms. I pray that this will be the case with my children and I when they grow up.
There are so many more attributes, but this is a blog not a book. Maybe I could write a book about him one day. So the third and final God-attribute in my Dad, is that he has become a potent encourager to me. I think he has allowed God to grow this attribute in his life over the years, because he is by nature more prophetic than pastoral, which can mean that you correct more than encourage. My Dad will not flatter anyone, mind you. I remember him telling me one day that I had a good singing voice but not a great one, and that this meant that I may have more of a broad gift mix than just a worship leading one. See what I mean about his truth-telling?! That stung a bit at first, but I am so thankful for his wise encouragement. He spurred me on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me. Honestly, over the years he has championed me on in God's call. He has done the same for my wife, whom he loves like a daughter. He is not just a sparring partner. He has been like the coach in my corner, sponging my bloodied nose, putting vaseline on my black eye, and offering steady assurance. "I believe in you. I delight in you. You are going to win this fight."
Thank you Dad for a live so well lived in the grace and the fear of God.
Thank you for giving me such a full glimpse of my Father in heaven.
May you too, feel His pleasure for you on your 70th birthday.