Sunday, December 8, 2013

Yahweh, Our Father

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he won’t give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask him!
Matthew 7.7-11

I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving a few days ago, and remembered to thank Yahweh our God for all of His generosity to us. 

Thanksgiving Day is an American invention, and always falls on a Thursday, a day named for a pagan god: Thor. 

Thor was one of the gods of the ancient people of northern Europe.  Thor had a father, whose name was Odin.  There were many other gods in their imaginations, male and female, who lived in imaginary places and each had a different personality.  It was much the same with the Greeks and Romans and all ancient peoples of the earth. 

The Jews of Jesus’ day were unique.  Unlike the world around them, they believed in only one God, named Yahweh.  And unlike other so-called gods, Yahweh had no father or mother.  He had no beginning and no end.  He was sometimes manifested on earth, but no man had actually seen Him, nor could one, for they knew that Yahweh was holy.  So holy, in fact, that even His Name became holy, and no one dared say it for fear of saying it “in vain,” and so violating the commandment (Exodus 20.7).  To this day observant Jews don’t say God’s name.  Sometimes they’ll use the term: “Ha-Shem” which means “the Name.”  Even when they read His Name in the scriptures in Hebrew, they don’t say it!  Instead when their eyes see: “YaHWeH” in their bible, they say: “Adonai,” which is the Hebrew word for “lord.”  Most of our English bibles continue this human tradition, and so in much of your Old Testament you’ll see this phrase: “the LORD your God.”  But really the writer wrote: “Yahweh, your God.” 

Thor had a personality, as did all the gods.  The duty of man to their god is generally to “appease” him or her so that their god will be nice back to them. 

Yahweh also has a personality, but because He is unique, we must consider: what is Yahweh like?  Is He patient, or is He ready to kill us over the least little thing?  Does He think we’re “cute” little people trying to do our best, or is He annoyed with our stupidity and frequent failure? 

Now consider your mental image of God, and where you got such an idea.  Most of us haven’t read the bible searching to find God, just to understand His personality.  Most of us learned about Him from our parents or churches or culture, and then we just invent different ways we’re comfortable thinking about Him.  We’re like the morons in Talladega Nights:
“I like to picture Jesus as a figure skater. He wears like a white outfit, and he does interpretive ice dances of my life's journey….  I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-Shirt because it says I want to be formal, but I'm here to party….  I like to think of Jesus like a ninja, fightin' off evil samurai….”

Like these fools, we “like to picture” God and His son in one way or another.  But no matter how you and I picture God, He is real, and He is only one thing.  The question we should be asking is:
Is my mental picture of God correct
And if not … how can I picture Him as He wants me to?

In the Sermon On the Mount (SOM), Jesus is speaking to Jewish people who had similar images of God from their bible and common religion.  One way they understood God was as their Creator, and as perfectly good, wise and holy.  It’s unlikely that they pictured God as their “Dad.”  They may have understood Him to be their Father (as in ancestor), but certainly not anything like an earthly dad.  So for Jesus to keep describing God as their Father as he did in the SOM must have been a bit startling to them. 

And in this section of the SOM, he emphasizes it more. 

What "Father" Means

In Jesus’ day and all through the scriptures, a father was different than our dads today.  Today we believe “good dads” go to their kids’ ballgames, help them with homework, protect and provide for their kids.  But in Jesus’ time, the father was the head of the household, and the household was like a family business.  Everyone worked and everyone contributed to the household.  Dad was like a CEO of the family business, whether it was farming or fishing or being merchants. 

Consider (for example) if the dad was a land-owning farmer.  The mom/wife had her responsibilities and she trained her daughters to do what she did.  Likewise the dad included his sons in his work.  They would help with the milking of goats, shearing of sheep and planting of crops from an early age.  By the time they were teens, the children would be just as capable as their parents because they’d been involved in the business for over 10 years.  Or to put it another way: kids served the household; unlike today, when the parents wait on the kids.

Also … they would become like their parents.  They would talk and work and live much as their parents did because that’s all they knew. 

This was the way of the world in almost all cultures until the industrial revolution (late 1700s – 1800s), when things began to change.  But in God’s kingdom, it’s still the old way – nothing changed, because God doesn't change. 

Yahweh is not a mere farmer, carpenter, fisherman, or merchant, however; Yahweh is a King!  And we, as His children, ought to be serving Him as such.  His interest is in His kingdom.  He wants His kingdom to expand in size and the subjects to prosper.  That’s why earlier in the SOM Jesus said that we should “seek first His Kingdom.”  If we put God’s kingdom first, then everything else fits into place.  And if we understand our Father’s business as our primary purpose in life, then we will live the best possible life. 

“Ask, and it will be given to you … for everyone who asks receives….”

Remember at the beginning of this section I suggested you keep “context” in mind.  So … here’s the context for our section now: we, as devoted servants and children of God, can ask for whatever we want, and get it!  Why?  Because we want what He wants

We aren't like kids in other families, or servants of other kings, or people with other gods … we want – above all things – for God’s kingdom to grow and be stronger.  We want above all things for God’s Name to be glorified, and for God to be praised!  If we are genuine disciples of Jesus this is our greatest desire!! This is our magnificent obsession, our constant thought: how can we do good works so our Father will be glorified?
You’re the earth’s salt.  If salt (you) don’t taste like salt, how can it be made salty?  You are useless.
You’re the light of the world.  You aren’t to be hidden, but put on the lamp-stand to give light to all who are in the house.Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.(Matthew 5.13-16, paraphrased)
  • Other people want “freedom;” but we are happy to be enslaved to God and righteousness (Romans 6.16-18) 
  • Others want material things; but we only want our daily bread (Proverbs 30:7-9) 
  • Others desperately seek human relationships (romance, family, friends); but we are happy to have a truly perfect Father and brothers and sisters in faith and obedience (Mark 3.33-35)
  • Others place loyalty in their earthly nation; we have our citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3.20)
  • Others seek worldly, physical, temporary comfort; but we seek eternal glory! 

So then, brothers, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us!
Romans 8:12-18

Now go back and read our section again.  You’ll see that when WE ask for something, we aren't like the world, who ask for money and relationships and comfort and fun and power … we are Yahweh's children.  So our requests (prayers) are not selfish, but so we can strengthen His kingdom and bring him glory! 

We are different.  We are a “peculiar people,” holy to God, devoted as His priests:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession …
so that:
…you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light!  For…
You once were not a people, but now you are the people of God;
You had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
1 Peter 2:9-12
And so … people who are not devoted to God with a single-minded purpose and a pure heart will never understand this part of the SOM.  

They don’t understand why they asked for something and God didn't give it to them.  And so, they’ll come to disbelieve in God.  These are people who think Yahweh is like other gods.  They think if they “appease” Yahweh, He will give them stuff like Thor or Baal, or Zeus or Buddha or Mohammed. 

There are those who think if they are “good” Christians God will give them a nice life and devoted, wonderful spouse of their dreams, a middle-class (or better) income, and fine children.  And if they are ‘bad,’ then they blame themselves for their sins.  These are the same foolish people who also claim to believe in God’s grace and patience.  And so, when they ask for something and don’t get it, they either assume God is punishing them or He has some other mystical “plan” for their lives, and will one day give them something even better.

Again: the only ones who have “ears to hear” and “eyes to see” this section of the SOM are those who are devoted servants and children of Yahweh, and who therefore want only – and exactly – what God wants. 

False gods are man-made inventions to serve men. 
And false ideas about the true God do the same thing: turn Him into a cosmic genie - a powerful servant of humans.
But Yahweh created us – and we serve Him. 
And when we do, He is our Father, pleased to give us what we ask. 

“You desire [want/crave] - and do not have … you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.

You do not have because you do not ask.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
You adulteresses!  
Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?
Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit therefore to God.
Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” 
James 4:2-8

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