I Am Not Fatherless

OK, before I get too serious, I need to make a plea to those who know me and are reading this: Please don’t tell my mom that a photo of her is on my blog (she hates being photographed).  As I say that I realize she doesn’t have the foggiest idea what a ‘blog’ is anyways. Secondly, please don’t clog up the ‘Comments‘ section with clever remarks about the suit my parents put me in (And, yes, that is a clip on tie).

Today is ‘Father’s Day’ and I have spent the better part of the day being pampered by my lovely wife and adorable daughter. I love being a father.

Father’s Day also prompts me to think about my earthly father, George Stuart MacPhail, who died in the summer of 1984. Some might say that I have been ‘fatherless’ for 25 years now.

In a sense, this is correct. My father, who loved to watch me play baseball and hockey, is gone. My father, who loved to sing in the choir at Drummond Hill Presbyterian Church, is but a memory for those who knew him.

I hugely miss my earthly father. I miss his affirmation. I miss playing ‘catch’ in the yard with him. I miss his advice. I miss the sound of his voice. I wish he was here.

I regret that he never saw me graduate,  and that he never met my wife and daughter.

A couple of years ago I got to preach at Drummond Hill PC—the church of my youth. A few of the people there remembered my dad, and their words, ‘Your dad would be proud’, meant the world to me.

I’m guessing that my response to being without an earthly father has been normal. Those things I lost when my father died, I looked for in other men—in coaches, in teachers, in older colleagues, and once I got married, in my father-in-law. The influence of those men has been a huge encouragement and consolation to me over the years. You could say that they helped to fill the void that was created when my dad died in 1984.

Why, though, do I contest the notion that I am fatherless? Am I deluding myself? I don’t think so.

On this ‘Father’s Day’ there is a passage in the Bible that surpasses the rest for me. The apostle Paul, writing to followers of Jesus, gives this massive encouragement:

“…those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God……you received a Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:14-16, emphasis mine).

 A cynic might suggest that the reason a became a follower of Jesus was to help me cope with my earthly loss. I concede that the timing of my becoming a Christian could give that impression (I confessed Jesus as my Lord in the summer of 1985 at Muskoka Woods). Twenty-five years later, however, my faith in God means more to me than it ever has. And, while I miss my earthly father immensely, I don’t feel fatherless.

The apostle Paul affirms my perception. According to the Scriptures, I am not fatherless. I have a Father in Heaven who loves me beyond measure. This makes me grateful, not just today, but every day.

The Object of Our Joy

I should begin by differentiating between my previous message, ‘The Basis of Our Joy’, and my current message, ‘The Object of Our Joy.’ The former refers to the reason for our joy, the latter refers to the target for the expression of our joy. Let me give you an example. When someone gives my young daughter a gift, it elevates her joy. The gift is the basis, the reason, for her joy. And typically, the gift also becomes the target/object for her joy—so much so that we are often reminding her of the need to appropriately recognize and thank the person who gave her the gift.

I think followers of Jesus struggle with this as well. God has done so much for us. Through His Son, and His ongoing Providence, we enjoy abundance from the hand of God. And the temptation is to rejoice more in those gifts than in the Giver. This is not a ‘one or the other’ scenario. This is a matter of priority. As John Piper has said, “All that God is for us in Jesus is the Object of our quest for joy. When I speak of fighting for joy, I mean joy in God, not joy without reference to God.”

The apostle Paul similarly directs us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, emphasis mine).

Someone might ask, ‘Is it realistic to always be rejoicing in the Lord when the world around us is coming apart at the seams?’

Looking to Paul’s example, I answer ‘Yes!’ Perpetual joy in the Lord is possible because Paul’s joy is not rooted in his shifting circumstances, but in a changeless God. It is helpful to remember that Paul was a prisoner in a Roman jail when he penned the words, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

I want to also recognize, however, that our circumstances do pose a threat to our joy in the Lord. I want to concede that, if we are not engaging the Lord in a particular way, things like anxiety and struggling relationships have the capacity to diminish our joy.

This presents us with two challenges. The first is to gain the joy in the Lord that Paul speaks of. The second is to keep the joy of the Lord amid challenging circumstances.

When I delivered this message at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well on June 14, we spent time looking at some practical, easy-to-apply, ways to accomplish these two things. These applications centred around one activity: Prayer.

I invite you to listen for yourself. My thesis, based on what I see in the Scriptures, is that to become a people marked increasingly by joy, we must first become a people marked increasingly by prayer.

In other words, we must build stronger habits for engaging the Giver of all good things.

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As you pursue joy in the Lord, as you seek to sustain your joy amid adversity, be encouraged by the fact that God intends for you to be joyful. In Him, and through Him, deep abiding joy is within our reach—so, go and get it!

The Basis of Our Joy

Joy is something every person seeks. And most of us succeed in experiencing joy, on some level, some of the time. The challenge is to keep our joy. The challenge is to maintain our joy when our circumstances shift and change.

You have probably recognized that the durability of your joy depends largely upon what your joy is grounded in. Admittedly, many things make us joyful—a good book, a satisfying meal, the company of a close friend, etc. That is fine and good, but I would contend that we are meant to experience a joy that surpasses the joy produced by temporal experiences. Moreover, I would suggest that such a surpassing joy is readily available to us.

Convinced of this, I am leading the people at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well through a 7-week message series, entitled: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You”. In addition to the myriad of Scriptures pertaining to joy, I am indebted to the work of John Piper who through his books, “Desiring God” and “When I Don’t Desire God: How To Fight For Joy”, has helped me grow in my pursuit of abiding joy.

The audio of the first message of the series, “The Basis for Our Joy”, is embedded within this post (below). Wading through the highly complex passage of Revelation 4 and 5, we uncover the answer to 2 massive questions:

1. Why do we exist?

2. What value are we to God?

The answer we glean from the text provides, in my opinion, the best grounding for our joy.

Have a listen, and may your joy abound!

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God Is Speaking

The more I read the Bible the more I trust it. The more I read the Bible the more I am impressed by its internal consistency. The more I read the Bible the more I sense my acute need for this Book. Like spiritual food for my soul, this Book nourishes me.

Over the years I have noticed that my proximity to God, the health of my relationship with Christ, tends to correspond with the amount of attention I am giving to the Scriptures. For this reason, I regard the study of Scripture to be vital to the health and progress of every follower of Jesus.

I think the apostle Paul agrees. In his last known correspondence to Timothy, there is a distinct emphasis on the Word of God. First, Paul challenges Timothy,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

And then, speaking about the nature of this word, Paul writes:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)

On May 24, at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, I spoke on this text, discerning therein 3 key exhortations:

  1. Know the Word
  2. Trust the Word
  3. Apply the Word

Additionally, I note some of the things that threaten to keep us from doing these things. I note the practical value of knowing, trusting, and applying the Word, but I also offer a personal incentive for studying the Bible. The illustration I use to present this latter incentive is deeply personal, but I hope you’ll find it both appropriate and compelling. Have a listen and let me know what you think.

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God still speaks through His Word. His Word remains relevant, authoritative, and sufficient. That’s speaking generally.

Allow me to be more specific: I’m confident that, as you prayerfully study the Scriptures, you’ll find that God has something meaningful to say to you.

What Should We Pray For?

I wrestle with this question all of the time. I’m mindful of the fact that my prayers—my petitions to God say something about where my priorities lie. And what I often find is that my inclination is to pray for things that are supremely important to me.

This is normal and natural, but I am convinced that the first charge upon the prayers of a Christian is to pray for that which is supremely important to God. I think it is for good reason that Jesus instructs us to pray “Thy will be done” before we ask for our “daily bread” (Mt. 6:10,11).

John Piper, in his book, “When I Don’t Desire God”, keenly observes:

Most people, before their prayers are soaked in Scripture, simply bring their natural desires to God…they pray the way an unbeliever would pray who is convinced that God might give him what he wants: health, a better job, safe journeys, a prosperous portfolio, successful children, plenty of food, a happy marriage, a car that works, a comfortable retirement, etc. None of these is evil. They’re just natural. You don’t have to be born again to want any of these. Desiring them—even from God—is no evidence of saving faith. So if these are all you pray for, there is a deep problem. Your desires have not yet been changed to put the glory of Christ at the centre. (p.165)

Piper’s observation has challenged me anew to examine how I’m praying. I want to want what God wants. Thankfully, the Bible doesn’t leave us guessing. We have been given specific instruction about what, and who, to pray for.

In the spirit of desiring to become people whose prayers are “soaked in Scripture”, St. Giles Kingsway will be hosting midweek services in our Courtyard this summer, seeking to answer the question: “What Should We Pray For?”. The series is on Wednesday evenings, 7:00-8:00pm, and runs from June 24 – August 12. If you live in or near Toronto, I would like to encourage you to attend these services. We have a great lineup of speakers:

June 24 – George Anderson (St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, Islington)

July 1 – Jeff Loach (St. Paul’s  Presbyterian, Nobleton)

July 8 – Kevin Livingston (Knox Presbyterian, Toronto)

July 15 – Bryn MacPhail (St. Giles Kingsway, Toronto)

July 22 – Gord Fish

July 29 – David Sherbino (Cornerstone Community, Woodbridge)

August 5 – Ian McWhinnie (Glenbrook Presbyterian, Mississauga)

August 12 – Garth Wilson (Wychwood-Davenport, Toronto)