Before I get into the details of this post, I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate all fathers on this Fathers day. I think it’s a really sad thing in our society these days that fathers have become very undervalued – and that’s not a reflection on anyone in particular: everyone has their part to play in society, but we have so many children growing up with absentee fathers, it saddens me.
So to all of those dads out there – take an opportunity to let others celebrate you. Be proud of the fact that you’re there for your children, that they have someone who they can look up to and respect, honour and love as a father and male role model.
And to those men out there who aren’t Dads, or in some cases, have been Dads and aren’t any more – know that you are just as valuable and important in our society as well. You don’t have to be a biological father to be fatherly and dad-like to the kids in your life.
It’s that group of people, though, that I feel an urge to reflect on tonight.
I’ve been trying for about 24 hours, now, to work out in my head exactly what I want to say here, so if I ramble or don’t make sense, then I apologize in advance. However; I’m going to start with a bit of a testimony.
The reason that I have an urge to speak about the “Dads who were,” is because I fall into that category.
It’s a long time ago, but the short of it is that in a relationship that I had, quite a few years ago, my girlfriend fell pregnant. We actually separated before I even found out that she was pregnant, though, and it wasn’t until sometime later that she actually told me everything that had happened. Sadly, our daughter didn’t survive, and I never got the blessing to meet her.
It weighed on me for a very long time, but it was something that I managed to keep suppressed mostly. I would still think of her occasionally, and wonder what life would have been like if things had gone differently. I wrote the poem Lost Love for her.
Last year, though, I had a pretty serious time of things with all of the pain being dug back up. I sat there on Father’s Day weekend last year and realized that this was the tenth ‘non-father’s day’ that I had been through. It really came to a front, and I had a huge struggle with everything that weekend. On Sunday afternoon I went to visit a Church I don’t normally go to, pastured by a man I have known and respected for a long time. We talked when I came in ahead of the service and I explained why I was so down and depressed.
Then he basically said to me that it still counted. When it came time to give out the Father’s Day gifts (a handkerchief and a couple of chocolates), he made a special effort to ensure that I was given one as well. It touched my heart so deeply; because for all of the years before, I had felt ashamed about my past, I had felt hurt that my child had been taken away from me, and I’d felt like I couldn’t actually talk to anyone about it. In fact, more than that, I had to lie about it all – I couldn’t show that I was suffering on a day so important to so many others.
That moment, though, when someone actually acknowledged my position was a breakthrough. When someone actually said to me, “Hey, happy Father’s day,” it was a moment where I realized that I didn’t have to suffer in silence. I didn’t even have to suffer. That pastor gave me a title that I’d been ashamed and frightened to wear, and in doing so, helped to set me free from the bonds that had been strangling me for ten years.
I’m not totally over it, and I probably never will be. With every year that passes, I wonder what she might have been like if she was here with us today. What I can do, though, is accept the circumstances, and look forward to seeing her when I finally get to heaven.
So to anyone who might fall into that category: To the dads who’ve lost a child; to those who maybe, through circumstances, are unable to see their children but wish they could, whatever the situation; claim the title.
I believe that God has more to come in my life, but that little girl – we called her Paige – will always be a part of my heart and soul, and I will continue to be her father. All the while, she’s in the care of my Father – God.
Happy Fathers Day.
Someone else’s thoughts on this perspective of Fathers Day at Mamamia.
Imagine if they wrote songs this long all the time today – the music industry would die because our short-attention-span society can’t focus on anything that lasts more than about four minutes.
But social commentary is not the aim here.
So last chapter I didn’t actually get to the story, so here it is. With the Israelites being oppressed and beaten down by Sisera, the prophetess Deborah was leading Israel and she sends this bloke, Barak, son of Abinoam to send Sisera and his armies packing. Barak’s not convinced, and he tells Deborah that he’s not going unless she comes too.
And so begins a feminist’s favourite bible story!
Deborah says sure, she’ll go with him, but because he’s asking her to come with, he won’t get to be the hero. The villain of the piece, Sisera, will instead be handed over to a woman – and that woman’s name is Jael. Sisera’s on the run from the Israelites and decides to pull in for a pit stop at Jael’s tent. With refreshments provided, he decides to have a nap, and while he’s napping, Jael takes a tent peg and hammer and pins his head to the ground.
Anyway, in chapter 5, Deborah sings about it. There’s actually not a real lot to say here, because a lot of the song is retelling the story that we just went through, but in lyrical format. What I will say, though, is that song is powerful.
I love the first couple of verses, especially.
“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves -
praise the LORD!” ~ Judges 5:2
My relationship with God is one where he is constantly reminding me of the heritage he adopted me into, not to boost my own ego (believe me, it doesn’t really help there), but to remind me of just how powerful He is. He’s a king, not just any king but the king over Heaven, Earth and everything created, and the thing is that he brought me into his family as his son and heir to that kingdom.
Just like he did for you.
We are all princes and princesses, and what we can take from this chapter is a mission to lead.
God hasn’t called us as his children, as his heirs and as his soldiers to hide behind others. He hasn’t called us to hide behind the walls of the kingdom where it’s safe and protected. He calls us to lead. Read that verse again:
“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves -
praise the LORD!”
When we take the lead, he is to be praised. He is to be glorified. When we lead, God’s light is shone into the darkness.
God’s calling you to be a leader – that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re meant to run a church or build a ministry, but it does mean that you are called to be the example to those people around you. God hasn’t called you to himself to hide in the shadows. He hasn’t called you to sit quietly and acquiesce when others around you are going down the wrong path. He’s called you to lead. To stand up and show them that there’s a better way, God’s way.
In which situation in your life can you lead and be an example for your King and Father?
And so it begins. Judges started out with a little transitional section between Joshua and Judges, and then we get into the tales of what each of them did.
Chapter three, though, begins with a few verses that I find really interesting.
These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience). ~ Judges 3:1-2
So why’s that interesting?
I don’t think anyone would deny that we endure trials and tests throughout our lives. It’s just part of going through it, but the thing that stuck out to me here was verse two – that there was a purpose behind the test.
I’d imagine that almost all of us have uttered the words, “Why me?” At some stage in our lives when dealing with a struggle that just didn’t seem to be fair. I can absolutely assure you that I’ve wondered that more times than I care to count.
I can’t help feeling, though, that one thing we can take from these two verses alone, is that there’s always something to learn. The Israelites had other nations and other kings to deal with for a reason, so that they’d learn and remember the requirements for warfare.
The thing is that they always had God on their side, but they still needed to be able to go into battle. God doesn’t baby us, he doesn’t sit there and wrap us in cotton wool so that we can never scratch ourselves. He doesn’t do everything for us. He won’t make us face something we can’t handle without his strength, definitely, but he will let us take a wander into a challenge that might look a bit daunting to us from the outside, because he knows that we can do it.
Why? Because how else do we grow? How else do we live? How else do we have a genuine relationship with him?
God is our father; our dad. He’s there to have a relationship with us. He wants to watch us grow up, he wants to watch us learn, experience, grow and develop.
Have you ever thought of God that way? We use the statements of God being a father all the time, but have you ever really stopped and thought about him as your dad?
Picture yourself as a child riding a bike without training wheels for the first time. You might fall and scratch yourself – God’s there as your dad, picking you up, kissing the wounded knee or elbow better, and then encouraging you to try again. Then when you actually succeed, he’s the one standing there, smiling proudly at you. He’s got his arms open as you get off the bike and run to him, proudly declaring, “I did it, Dad! I did it!”
But before then, you might fall off that bike a dozen times. And each time, he’s there, picking you up, helping you out, and encouraging you to try again.
The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their Gods. ~ Judges 3:5-6
The Israelites fell off the bike – and more than once. In the rest of Chapter 3, we get told the stories of Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar – three judges who God chose to rescue the Israelites after they fell into sin. God didn’t abandon them, he didn’t turn his back when they fell and scraped their knee, he gave them someone to help them get back on the bike, and encouraged them, “It’s okay. Try again.”
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten this far into the book of Joshua before in my life – or if I have, it was as exciting then as it is to me now and it just got forgotten. Back in the earlier books, there was all this detail about offerings brought, or about who was who in the tribes, and different things like that – well I’ve glanced ahead, and there’s a whole lot of stuff about division of land and so on over the next few chapters. I’m worried, but hey, I’ll keep reading and ask God what he can reveal to me out of each passage. Maybe it will be a lot, maybe it won’t.
He revealed something to me with chapter 13, though – right in the beginning.
When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, “You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.” ~ Joshua 13:1
He then goes on to list to Joshua all the land that still has to be taken – it’s quite a lot of land still to go.
It got me thinking, though – this is being said to Joshua when he’s old. Now, I know he wasn’t probably that young when he started the campaign in Canaan; after all, he’d been around for forty years while the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and he was old enough before that to be sent out as part of a scouting party, but it almost feels like there’s a time gap here, the way it specifies suddenly that he is old.
It makes me think, therefore, that the Israelites may have fallen into a position of resting on their laurels. After this passage where God tells Joshua about the land still to be taken, we go into the division of the land east of the Jordan for the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh; so it feels like Joshua’s gone, “Yeah, I get it, but hey, let’s let everyone rest for a while, it’s peaceful now and we’d like to settle a little.”
It’s very easy to do that sometimes; it’s nice and easy to look around at our life and think that it’s satisfactory, that we’ve achieved something, so instead of continuing to press on, we can just settle down and take a break for a while. The trouble is, I’ve found in my own life, anyway, that when you sit down and take a break, it’s harder to get back up again.
I think, sometimes, we can get to a stage where we think we’re standing in the conquered promised land; we’ve reached our destiny in God.
Deep down we know we haven’t. Deep down, we know that this is just a job half done. However, we look ahead, we see a list like the one given to Joshua by God to say that these are all the other things that need to be done, and we just shake our head and think we’ll just rest here for a while.
Soon enough, we’re resting for so long that we don’t actually end up getting any further.
Our lives are never complete until we’re walking up to our Father at the end of our lives, with him beaming down at us like the proud Father he will be and embracing us – until then, our lives are always a job half done; so don’t stop. Keep going, keep conquering the Promised Land and keep walking into your destiny. One day the Father will be embracing you after you’ve actually stepped completely into that destiny that he had for you, and then – then there will be time for rest.
Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your dsescendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” ~ Deuteronomy 34:4
You know, throughout this journey of the Israelites, from Egypt to Canaan, I’ve consistently used the Promised Land as a metaphorical reference to our own individual destinies in God. The fulfilment of the plan that he has for our lives.
First of all, going to the very end of the chapter.
Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. ~ Deuteronomy 34:10
As far as prophets go, Moses is the top of the crop, he’s the one who knew God face to face.
But even then, he wasn’t perfect. The reason he was standing on Mt Nebo and not entering the promised land was because he didn’t trust God completely. He ended up disobeying God and doing his own thing – and it was something that would seem to us, so minor, but it was a big enough thing to God that Moses was not allowed to cross over into the promised land.
And that’s the thing that most stands out to me as I read this chapter. Mt Nebo, the mountain that Moses climbed at the end of his life, and gazed out over the promised land, over the gift that God had promised his fathers, and his nation.
It doesn’t say how Moses reacted, but I think he would have been heartbroken. Standing there, looking out over the promised land at the destiny God had, knowing that he could have gotten there if he had only trusted God that little bit more when it mattered.
When it comes to the end of my life, I don’t want to stand on Mount Nebo, looking out over the destiny that God actually had in mind for me. I want to cross the Jordan and walk into it, and look back across the river, at the journey that I’ve taken to get there.
And so comes to a close the book of Deuteronomy, and the Pentateuch.
It’s taken me just shy of twelve months to get this far. I started on 27 July, 2010 – and what a journey it’s been.
When I started, my intention was to provide a – what some might call ‘New Age Interpretation’ of the bible, reading it through as a book that had a lot of good moral teachings, but was wrong in some places, right in others, needed improving in others. That was basically the intention I had, as someone who wasn’t following or in a relationship with God.
It really is a love letter from him, though. Between studying God’s very word, and the influence of some absolutely wonderful people whom I love dearly, things changed.
So thanks: Steve, Donna, Cody, Sara, Anna and Pastor Dave – in particular, you were people who God used, each in a special way, to help bring me back into this relationship with him.
I’m so grateful, now, to know the love of my Father in a way that I never knew before.
Now, I’m just eager to keep going. That said, I’m going to take a couple of days break again now – I know I’ve had more days off than writing this blog of late, but I’ll start with Joshua on Sunday evening.
You know, I could spend hours just on this one chapter, pulling things out of it. There’s so much here, so much intensity, so much depth, so much feeling.
As is the case with a lot of music and songs.
What I found myself thinking, though, as I read it, was about the songs that we sing in church, and how powerful some of these can be for us as well.
You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;
You forgot the God who gave you birth.
~ Deuteronomy 32:18
As I read this verse, it was one of two verses that absolutely leapt off the page to me. These two lines just feel, to me, filled with heartbreak. Here is a voice crying out saying to the Israelites, that they forgot God: their father.
This is our world today. They have forgotten the Rock who fathered them. They have forgotten he who gave birth.
And I feel that forgotten is a really apt choice of word. If I go back a few weeks, to walking home from a night out, it was around midnight – maybe a little past, and my heart broke because I just saw these people, I saw the pain, the confusion, the emptiness in so many people’s hearts – they were crying out, but they didn’t know what they were crying out for. They were looking for something, but did they know what they were searching for?
You forgot the God who gave you birth.
Our civilisation has forgotten where we came from.
The other verse that really leapt out at me, and this is going on a totally different topic, was verse 47.
They are not just idle words for you – they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess. ~ Deuteronomy 32:47
This struck me back on the musical train of thought, and the songs that we sing in church services. One thing that I’m consistently challenged by when I’m singing these songs, is how much I mean the words that I’m singing. Do we get caught up in the hype? In the show? In the performance of the song? Do the lyrics become just ‘idle words’ rather than being our life? It’s very easy to sing lyrics, but it’s not so easy to mean them.
A challenge, therefore: Next time you’re singing a song, really think about the words, and ask yourself and God, “Do I really mean this?” Are the words that you’re professing to God, not just idle words, but your life?
First of all in this chapter… Wow.
There’s so much here, I was reading it wondering just where to start – and how I could even begin to write a blog entry on it. To be honest, I could almost go close to writing one entry for each verse in this chapter; there’s just so much to pay attention to and to draw out of it.
But like happens, at times, there’s one verse that absolutely stood out to me.
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin. ~ Deuteronomy 24:16
I remember once wondering whether I could ask God to let someone else go to heaven instead of me. I didn’t really know what I was asking, obviously, but the question was there. The thing is, though, that the answer is no.
I don’t really know the details, but I’m aware of the debate raging recently about whether hell exists or not, and to be honest, I’ve been at that place of denying that it exists; and thinking that it’s just not possible that it’s there. That isn’t, though, what the bible says. There’s more than the fair share of scripture that gives us a little bit of insight into the place; and it’s certainly not like some people prefer to believe.
The thing is, if there wasn’t a hell, then there would have been no need for Jesus to stand in the place of us and take the punishment for sin.
If there was no place bad. If everyone was just going to go to heaven anyway, then Jesus didn’t have to do what he did.
Hell is real, and it is justice for us to be in that place of eternal separation from God. I’m not going to pretend to know what it’s like, and frankly, I don’t ever want to have any more idea of what it’s like beyond those verses that allude or picture it throughout the bible. Justice says that each man is to die for his own sins; we can’t pass that on from one person to another.
Only Jesus could.
How? By being God.
Jesus cannot have been ‘just a man’ and still been the sacrificial lamb. If he was just a man, with no divinity to him, then he could not have taken the place for even one person. The law, justice prevented it. It was only through his being divine, in being God, that he could actually stand in that place and say, “My love is greater.”
Moses is ready to move on to the next step. After last night, pointing out to remember God and to not start thinking that the Israelites were prospering out of their own strength, now Moses moves on to the fact that it’s not because of them that they’re moving into the Promised Land.
He starts on a similar tone, reminding the Israelites that they’re not getting into the Promised Land through their righteousness. Personally, I would have thought that much was obvious – the Israelites haven’t exactly had a great track record for righteousness throughout the past forty years that they’ve been in the desert.
It is not because of your righteosness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. ~ Deuteronomy 9:5
And just in case the Israelites put up a bit of an argument, Moses goes on to remind them of all the things they’ve done – but in particular, he recounts the scene from back at Mt Sinai, when he came down the mountain to find that they’d gotten bored and decided to make a golden calf to worship instead.
The flavour of Deuteronomy is quite different to the books preceding it. Throughout Leviticus and Numbers, I noticed regularly that even though some of the things that were said sounded harsh, when you actually look deeper into the passage, you can feel the love coming from what God’s telling the Israelites. You can see the revelation that God is a father, caring for his children, and like so many parents, he’s not telling them not to do something because he wants to take their fun away; he’s telling them not to do it because it’s not good for them.
When it comes to Deuteronomy, though, there’s a different flavour to it. It’s like this book puts the onus back on the Israelites. That they need to remember their place, and that they need to stay humble, stay meek, and remember that God’s taking care of them.
And that is how I’d link this back to our lives.
It’s all well and good to say that God’s got things in control, that he has a destiny for us, and all those kinds of things, but it’s not necessarily that simple.
If it was, then we wouldn’t have to do anything, which of course then begs the question what’s the point of living in the first place?
What we need to remember, though, is that we don’t achieve anything through ourselves. In reality, we’re pretty much like the Israelites are here. I can’t say I’ve ever forged a cow from gold and bowed down and worshiped it, but I’ve sure done enough stuff in my life, made enough complaints, committed enough crimes to put me somewhere on par with the Israelites at this stage.
Still, just like the Israelites, God opens up the doors to the Promised Land. Not because of the evil of those already there this time, but also not because of my righteousness, or anyone else’s – well, that’s not quite true. It’s because of the righteousness of one: Jesus Christ.
On an administrative note: I mentioned back in February that this blog was going to be moving to a new website. I am currently in the process of setting up the new site so it will not be far away. Midnight Quills will still be here, but that will be Josh’s place on the web. At the same time, the website for Intrepid Ministries will be being officially launched some time in the coming weeks.