Loved by God the [Not Absent, Not Abusive] Father

By the time I was ten, I had had three earthly fathers.

The first father was the absent one, my biological father. My parents divorced in a storm of anger and legal drama when I was just a few months old, and my mom and I lived with her parents for the next several years. Father Number One left the country he despised for a new life on a new continent, where he stayed.

The second father was the abusive one, my stepfather. My mother had impulsively married one of her more promising boyfriends, and while it seemed like a good idea at the time, his physical abuse started within weeks and escalated rapidly until one final beating which put her in the hospital just before Christmas. She and I fled in secret to another state a thousand miles away and Father Number Two never found us.

The third father … but I’ll save him for later. Please stick around for that.

When I became a Christian as an adult, I discovered that many people, even Christians, who’d had absent or abusive fathers early in life had trouble seeing God as a benevolent, loving Father. It was easier for them to see God as someone distant or frightening, someone they could never hope to please, someone who was constantly judging them and finding them guilty or inadequate, or someone who professed to love them but did it conditionally and with many strings attached.

They had learned from imperfect, human men that fathers (or those who stood in the place of fathers) were often not trustworthy, loving, or safe.

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The Hidden Gift of Spiritual Amnesia

Some time ago, a young friend mentioned that she heard something in a sermon—a spiritual truth of some kind—that she had always known, yet had forgotten up until that point of hearing it again. She was disappointed in herself for forgetting, knowing that Satan delights in our tendency to forget God’s promises, his faithfulness, and his Word.

She might have thought she was alone in her difficulty, or maybe that she was just too young to have conquered it yet, but the truth is, we’re all victims of spiritual amnesia. How many times have you heard a sermon, read a devotional, sat in on Bible study, or received counsel from a friend in Christ, and thought to yourself, “I already knew this, but I had to be reminded of it yet again!” You might have felt discouraged, surprised, or frustrated that you had forgotten. You might have thought, “Why am I always forgetting this about God?”

Like sheep, we’re easily distracted from the truth and we constantly go astray. It’s part of our sin nature and it’s no surprise to God. He’s witnessed the spiritual amnesia of his people since the beginning. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses repeatedly warns the Israelites to take care lest they forget the Lord their God. Later, the author of Psalm 119 repeatedly and pointedly declares that he will not forget God’s Word, his law, his works, his precepts, and more. In the New Testament, James says that “if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23, 24). I don’t know about you, but I often feel as if I’m that person looking in the mirror—I hear the Word, I hear the truth, I nod my head and feel sincerity in my heart, but then I go away and forget what I’ve heard. Again.

But I know I’m not alone in this forgetfulness. Think about it: Why do devotional books sell so well, year after year? Why do people keep going to church for five, six, seven or more decades when they surely are hearing many of the same ideas in sermons time after time? Why, if we’ve learned Bible stories and concepts even from young childhood, do we keep revisiting these same stories and ideas in Bible studies as adults? Why do we have to keep relearning God’s promises, his faithfulness, and his Word—over and over and over?

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Wanted: Spiritual Mothers

Whose voice do you hear when a much older Christian woman speaks into your life?

When I was eight years old, I became a grown-up. Changing life circumstances and a mom who needed my help in many areas of her life caused me to say good-bye to most of the rest of my childhood and learn how to be an adult quickly.

One recent Sunday, almost 50 years later, I sat in church and listened to a prayer written and spoken by a woman a little older than my mother would have been if she were still alive. Her prayer was just a minute or two long, and by the end of it I was in tears. Now, I cry easily for many reasons, so the tears themselves didn’t surprise me. The surprise was that I was crying for something I longed for without knowing, like a memory that had never happened or a desire just out of reach.

I cried because I recognized something in an elderly woman’s voice—a voice of experience, of someone who knew suffering, who had lived a long time and knew grief and loss. A voice of a woman who loved God with her whole heart and whose relationship with him had sustained her through many decades of both joys and sorrows. A true prayer warrior who, at that moment, sounded to me as if she spoke from the very heart of God, with a desire that we all should know him as she did. By the end of her prayer, a prayer of comfort and reminders of God’s grace, I was in tears—tears of gratitude for the voice of a spiritual mother in our midst.

Whose voices did I hear that day?

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From Me-Focused to God-Focused Bible Study

In the 25 years that I’ve been a Christian, I’ve participated in a lot of Bible studies.

There was the Bible study that encouraged me to be more like David, someone after God’s own heart. The Bible study that took me from Genesis to Revelation in ten weeks. Homespun Bible studies written by gifted women in my church and shiny new Bible studies from major publishers. Bible studies that provided free childcare (thank you, Lord) and Bible studies that had me in tears of conviction on the drive home. Big Bible studies in a room full of women and small Bible studies in a church member’s living room.

Over all these years with all these different studies (and in my own personal study), I regularly looked to the Bible for life-changing words that would transform my relationships, improve my spiritual self-discipline, or solve other problems in my life. This kind of “what’s in it for me?” way to study the Bible is the default setting even among longtime Christians. Reading the Bible and seeking God’s personal, problem-solving message to you is very common—try googling “what Bible verse should I read when” and you’ll see what I mean.

I did learn from these Bible studies. I sometimes even found answers to my problems or inspiration to become a better person in some particular way. But for more than two decades, even though I enjoyed and learned from the Bible studies that I had done, none of them answered the question that I didn’t even know I had: how to study and Bible, and why.

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God’s Great Story, and Where You Fit In

If you’re new to the faith, if you’ve forgotten or were never taught some of these concepts, or if you’re just curious as to how your own story fits in with God’s story, this article is for you.

Human beings crave stories. From very young childhood, we’re entertained by them, cautioned by them, learn from them, and willingly pay good money to be mesmerized by them (i.e., taken out of our own story and immersed in someone else’s) for a few hours—whether in a book, a movie, a play, even a video game or a painting.

I’ve been thinking a lot about story lately in terms of the best-selling book of all time—more than five billion copies sold, and still the best-selling book year after year—the Bible. (The fact that these statistics are still true will hopefully cheer believers living in a post-Christian or nearly post-Christian America.)

The greatest of all stories.

Long before video games, movies, and even books as we know them today, Jesus, knowing the  effect that stories have on us, used parables (short stories that illustrate a spiritual lesson) for teaching purposes throughout his three-year ministry. From their clueless reactions to many of the stories’ lessons and meanings, it might appear that his disciples were not always the sharpest knives in the drawer, being pretty obtuse when it came to understanding what Jesus was actually talking about. But to be fair, they were mostly unaware that they were in the living presence of the Savior of the world, God’s own Son, and who’s to say what our responses would have been in that situation? It’s human to be skeptical, even when witnessing miracles right in front of our eyes. We might view the parables as not terribly difficult to understand, but Christians today have the benefit of two thousand years of commentary and analysis, not to mention a firm knowledge of who Jesus is and what he came to do, so comprehension comes a little easier to the modern listener or reader.

But beyond the parables that Jesus told, the Bible is filled with story after story after story. The stories of creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, the tower of Babel, Abraham and Sarah … and that’s just the first 15 pages of my 1,260-page Bible. The story of Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection story takes four entire books to tell, over and over. The history of Israel and the early Christians are told in story form (Exodus, Ruth, 1 Samuel, Esther, Acts). The poets and prophets are storytellers (Job, Daniel, Hosea, Jonah). End-times visions are told as story (Revelation). It’s no wonder we teach children about the Bible using books with titles like The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Big Picture Story Bible (my favorite), Baby’s First Bible Stories, and so many more.

What’s the purpose of God’s story?

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Faith · Parenting

Finding Hope When You’ve Made Mistakes with Your Children

Many years ago when I was a young mom with an intense and challenging preschooler, I was getting coffee at Bible study next to an older, well-respected woman in the church. She had heard through the church grapevine that I was having trouble with my son, and  she casually said to me, out of nowhere, “Isn’t it great, Rebekah, that we can get all the parenting help we need right there in the Bible?”

That out-of-the-blue comment really threw me. Even though I was a fairly new Christian, I was pretty sure there was not a lot of direct parenting advice in the Bible that dealt with my specific issues with my young son. I honestly didn’t have a clue what she was even talking about. Feeling awkward, I smiled and nodded, and she went on her way, never mentioning it again.

To be honest, I didn’t take her comment very well. Her well-meaning advice had no follow-through, so it felt a little like I’d been the victim of a hit-and-run. But as the years went by, and I grew in spiritual maturity and Bible knowledge, I found that God did indeed offer parenting hope and help to me in his Word. I just needed to learn how to recognize it.

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On the Longing to be Seen, Heard, and Known

“We all desire to know and be known.”

“I just want to be heard.”

“I feel seen.”

The desire to be seen, heard, and known is universal. We all want to feel significant, worthy of attention, and validated by others. It’s painful to feel ignored, anonymous, or irrelevant.

Yet we often find ourselves in situations where we feel exactly that:

“No one understands how hard this is.”

“Why am I even doing this?”

“Does anyone even care?”

The need to “be seen” is so great that the multi-billion-dollar industry of social media has built itself around posts, clicks, and likes that provide people with solid, measurable evidence that they have indeed been seen and approved of by others.

We all have this desire to one degree or another—which isn’t surprising, because we were created to know and be known by God. He has made seeing, hearing, and knowing him easier for us in so many ways:

  • through the person of Jesus Christ
  • through his Word
  • through evidence of his saving grace in our lives
  • through the beauty, majesty, and intricacy of his creation

Wanting to be seen, heard, and known isn’t sinful in itself (it’s part of our human nature, given to us by God), but as with everything in life, sin has tainted it in a big way. It turns out that Jesus had some things to say about being seen, and it’s what’s going on in our heart that’s actually important.

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Already Saved … Not Yet Finished

My first grandchild was born last year. What a wonderful day it was when she finally arrived! She is delightful in the way that only babies can be. But even though she’s already here and I love her sweet baby self, I have great anticipation for the future, because truly knowing her, seeing her grow into all she is meant to be, is still yet to come.

She’s already here, and is so precious … but she is not yet who she will become.

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The “Temptation of Affluence” and the Lord’s Prayer

Give us this day our daily bread.

It’s been a long time since I’ve wondered where my next meal was coming from—about 40 years, actually, since living in an apartment or trailer with a mostly empty refrigerator or no heat. I don’t specifically remember reciting the Lord’s Prayer back then, but if I did, I’m sure I understood the phrase “give us this day our daily bread.” Even as a child, I would have seen the direct correlation between a prayer for daily sustenance and the fact that God somehow provided for my needs each day.

Of all the elements in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread” seems very straightforward: Please provide for my daily needs, such as food, to survive. It often gets overshadowed by other, seemingly more pertinent or lofty phrases such as “lead us not into temptation” or “forgive us our trespasses” or “Thy will be done.”

But God has a remarkable knack for continuing to teach us new truths even when we think we thoroughly understand something as familiar as the Lord’s Prayer.

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What Does It Mean to Be a Believer?

Many years ago, not long after I became a Christian, I attended an evening church service by myself, and slid into a pew beside a woman who had spoken with me a couple of times previously. After a few moments of small talk, I said somewhat nervously, “I think I’m going to ask my mom to come to church with me soon.”

“That’s nice!” she replied, genuinely interested.

“Yes, I’m hoping she’ll like it. I’m just not sure,” I admitted.

“Oh, is she a believer?”

The question rolled off her tongue so naturally, and she asked it with such matter-of-factness, that I could tell she had a fairly straightforward understanding of what being a believer was all about. But it wasn’t a straightforward question to me, a new Christian, especially regarding my mom. (Religion was rarely spoken of in my family as I was growing up.)

So when she asked it, I froze.

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