On Titles and Truth

Most Catholics have heard the critique from non-Catholics that it is wrong to call priests “Father.” It is a rather tired old charge, which basically goes as follows:

  1. Jesus says, “Call no man on earth your father.”
  2. But Catholics call their priests “Father.”
  3. Therefore, the Catholic Church is wrong to espouse this and is likely wrong in many other things as well.

The problem stems from a rather absolute and literal reading of Jesus’ words. At daily Mass on Saturday, we read this passage:

As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matt 23:10-11).

The problem with reading the text literally (and thereby absolutely) is that it amounts to a complete banishing of the word “father.” Jesus says, “Call no one on earth your father.” The phrase “no one on earth,” if interpreted literally, is about as absolute a forbiddance as could be imagined. In effect, the term “father” must never be uttered in reference to any earthly, human male, ever!

If that be the case, though, then none of the New Testament authors seem to have gotten the message. In the New Testament there are nearly 200 occurrences of the word “father” in reference to earthly males. Most “egregiously,” St Paul wrote, For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel (1 Cor 4:15). Didn’t St. Paul (and the Holy Spirit who inspired him) know that Jesus forbade the use of the word except to refer to the Father in Heaven?

In fact, Jesus didn’t even appear to get his own memo; either that or He somehow forgot!

I have compiled a list of all of these “violations” here: New Testament verses using the term “father”. It is quite a long list and many of the verses came directly from the mouth of Jesus.

Obviously, then, Jesus does not mean to forbid or eliminate the use of the term or title. Getting into a tedious debate about the linguistics misses the whole point of Jesus’ teaching—and it is a very important one.

The central point that Jesus makes is that no one on this earth should have more authority in one’s life than God. No teacher, no matter how eloquent or convincing; no master, no matter how many advanced degrees; no expert, no matter how many letters come after his name; has the authority to overrule or set aside God’s teaching. None of them should have a greater prominence or influence on us than the Lord. Everything they say should be tested in the light of God’s revealed truth.

Sadly, this is too often not the case. We so easily allow worldly thinking and the views of “experts” or cultural icons to eclipse God’s teaching and His authority in our life.

St. Paul says,

Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 4:21-22).

Is this what we do in practice? When a popular musician comes out with a song celebrating fornication, many say, “I know, I know, but it is a pretty song.” They’ll even play it at Catholic wedding receptions and school dances. When an eloquent spokesperson for any number of sinful practices contrary to God’s law and teaching comes along, too many Christians fall for the false notions of compassion and tolerance. Do we really “test everything” with the measuring rod of God’s teaching? Sadly, often we do not. More often it is God’s teachings that go on trial, to be judged by worldly standards.

St. Paul laments,

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Tim 4:3-4).

This leads us back to Jesus true concern: no one, be it a teacher, a rabbi, an expert, a scientist, a parent, or a clergyman, should have more authority in one’s life than God does. In effect, Jesus says, “If even your earthly father, whom you should otherwise honor, asks you to do evil or seeks your assent to teachings contrary to what my Father and I have taught, disregard his request and refuse to cooperate.”

Jesus is not focused here on titles, as some erroneously think; He is focused on truth. He is not removing words from our dictionary; He is requiring the truth that He teaches to be the measure by which we test everything else. No one should have a higher authority in our mind than God. We should have no greater devotion in our heart than to the Lord. Too easily we miss Jesus’ crucial point by debating the details.

God’s Love For Us Is Crazy! A Meditation on the Gospel for the 24th Sunday of the Year

Crazy! – The three parables of today’s lengthy Gospel challenge our conventional thinking. All three of them are quirky and describe people doing things that we most likely would NOT do. In fact all three of them, especially the first two, seem crazy. Who would ever do what the shepherd of the lost sheep and the woman of the lost coin do? No one, really. Likewise the Father in the Story of the Prodigal Son breaks all the rules of “tough love.” His forgiveness has an almost reckless quality. No father of Jesus’ time would ever tolerate such insolence from his sons. It just wasn’t accepted. So all three of these parables, at one level, are just plain crazy.

But that is one of the most fundamental points Jesus seems to be making here. The Heavenly Father’s love for us is just plain “crazy.” I do not mean it is irrational by using this word, but it does stretch the limits of our human thinking. Neither do I intend irreverence by using the word “crazy.” Permit a preacher’s hyperbole so that we can enter into the astonishing quality of God’s love and mercy. It cannot be understood or really explained in human terms. Who really understands unlimited and unconditional love? Who can really grasp the depths of God’s mercy? His grace is “amazing” in that it goes completely beyond my ability to comprehend. It transcends merely human concepts. Thank God! If God were like us we’d all be in trouble, frankly, we’d all be in Hell.

Let’s look at each Parable. The Gospel texts are too lengthy to reproduce here. But you can read the whole of it here: Luke 15

1. The Parable of the Lost Sheep– The Lord speaks of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to search for one who is lost. Would a shepherd likely do this? Probably not! The passage drips with irony, even absurdity. Perhaps if the lost sheep were near at hand he might venture over the next hill. But the average human shepherd would cut his losses and stay with the ninety-nine. Many of us might even consider it irresponsible to leave ninety-nine to search for one. Some people try and make sense of this parable by appealing to possible shepherding practices of the First Century. But this seems to miss the point that God’s love is extravagant, personal, and puzzling. In the end, it would seem that God loves us for “no good reason.” He seems to love us even “more” when we stray. He intensifies his focus on the one who strays. To us this is not only crazy, it is dangerous, possibly enabling. But don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves me is crazy, unexplainable.

2. The Woman and the Lost coin– A woman loses a drachma. It is a small coin. Not worth that much really, perhaps one day’s wages for an agricultural worker. In modern terms less than $100. Not insignificant, but not really huge amount either. She sweeps diligently for it. So far, this seems reasonable. I’d probably look around a while for a missing “Benjamin” ($100 bill). But then it gets crazy. She finds it and rejoices to such an extent that she spends most, if not all of it, on a party celebrating the found coin! Crazy! But that is exactly the point. God doesn’t count the cost. Some commentators try to explain the craziness away by suggesting that perhaps the coin had sentimental value as part of her dowry or ceremonial head-dress of ten coins. But here too, over analyzing and trying to explain or make sense of it may well miss the point. This woman is crazy because God is crazy. His love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves me is crazy, unexplainable.

3. The Prodigal Son– A young son, entitled by law to a third of the Estate (since he was the younger son) tells his Father to drop dead. He wants his inheritance now. The old man isn’t dying fast enough. Incredibly the father gives it to him! Crazy! No father in the ancient world would ever tolerate such irreverence and insolence from a son. The Father is a nobleman (land owner) and could hand his son over to serious retribution for such dishonor. The son leaves his father and goes off to “a distant land” where he sinks so low, he is looking up to pigs. He comes to his senses, rehearses a speech and returns to his father, hoping only to be a hired worker.

But here’s where it gets even crazier! The Father sees him a long way off (meaning he was looking for him). He does something a nobleman would not do: he runs. Running was considered beneath the dignity of a nobleman since it would imply he was either a slave on an errand or a fugitive running. Further, in order for a person to run in the ancient world, they had first to gird the loins of their garments. Since the garments were long flowing robes they had to be “hiked up.”  Otherwise, the legs would get tangled in the garment and the person would trip. But for a nobleman to show his legs was considered an indignity. Get the picture? This nobleman, this father, is debasing himself, humbling himself. He is running and his legs are showing. This is crazy. Do you know what this son has done? Done he deserve this humble love? No! This father is crazy! – Exactly! The heavenly Father is crazy too. He actually loves me and humbles himself for me. He even sent his own Son for me. Do you know what I have done….what you have done? Do we deserve this? No! It’s crazy.

The second son is also a handful. When he hears of the party for the wayward brother he refuses to enter. Again this is unthinkable in the ancient world for a son to refuse to report when summoned by a father. What does the father do? He comes out and pleads with him! Again, crazy! Unthinkable. No father in the ancient world would ever permit a son to speak to him in the way this second son spoke. The son basically calls him a slave-driver who issues orders and refuses to enter the party that his father is hosting. He says he’d  rather celebrate with his friends than with his father. But (pay attention here), the goal in life is not celebrate with your friends. The goal in life is to celebrate with the Father in heaven.

This father is crazy. He is crazy because God the Father is crazy. Do you know what it is to refuse to do what God says? And yet we do it every time we sin! The heavenly Father should not have to tolerate this. He is God and we are creatures. If he wanted, he could squash us like a bug. But he does not. The father in this parable is almost “dangerously” merciful. Shouldn’t his sons learn a lesson here?  Shouldn’t he punish them both for their insolence? Yes, all our human thinking kicks in. But God is God, not man. There are other scriptures that speak of his punishments. But in the end, none of us get what we really deserve. The point of Jesus here is that God is merciful and his love is crazy. It makes no human sense.  His love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves me is crazy, unexplainable.


Why Didn’t the Father Come to Save Us?

Many years ago, when I was just a teenager I remember being puzzled by the oft quoted John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son….” Now everyone used this verse to demonstrate how much God loved us. But I got stuck thinking, “What kind of a Father is this that he sends his Son to suffer horribly and die!?”  My own Father wouldn’t send me in harm’s way, he’d go and face the threat and protect me. But God the Father sent his Son to do the hard and dirty work, to get slaughtered and die. Why? Why didn’t the Father come to save us himself?

As I asked this question no one had a real answer. Even the priests looked at me like they didn’t understand my question. As the years went by I eventually connected the dots and found the answer. But recently I was reminded of my question as some one asked me, “Why didn’t the Father come to save us himself?”

The answer really comes down to one word, a word we’re not so good at understanding in these modern times. The word is “obedience.”  The simple answer is that the Father cannot obey the Father, only the Son can do that. For it is not just the suffering of Christ per se that saves us, it is his obedience that saves us. Consider that it was Adam’s disobedience that destroyed our relationship with God. Hence it is Christ’s obedience that saves us. Scripture says, For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Rom 5:19). So plainly put, since obedience was the necessary remedy for our disobedience Jesus the Son had to come for he is able to obey the Father. It does not pertain,  nor is it really sensible,  to say that the Father could obey the Father. Hence God the Father sent his only Son. Scripture says of Jesus He became obedient” to the Father “unto death (Phil 2:8)

While we tend to speak today primarily of the suffering and death of Jesus as the cause of our salvation. But more specifically, his suffering and death are really the manifestation of the deeper cause of our salvation, which is the obedience of Christ. Isaiah 53:7  says of the Christ, He was offered because he willed it. St. Thomas Aquinas says, Now obedience is preferred to all sacrifices. according to 1 Samuel 15:22: “Obedience is better than sacrifices.” Therefore it was fitting that the sacrifice of Christ’s Passion and death should proceed from obedience….And so the Man-Christ secured the victory through being obedient to God, according to Proverbs 21:28: “An obedient man shall speak of victory.” (Summa, Tertia Pars, 47.2)

Over and over again Jesus spoke of his looming death as an act of love and obedience for the Father.  Christ received a command from the Father to suffer. For it is written (John 10:18): “I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it up again: this commandment have I received of My Father”–namely, of laying down His life and of resuming it again….He suffered [also] out of love of the Father, according to John 14:31: “That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father hath given Me this  commandment,  so I do. Arise, let us go hence”–namely, to the place of His Passion:….. He “paid….suffering Himself to be fastened to a tree on account of the apple which man had plucked from the tree against God’s command (Aquinas, Summa Tertia Pars 47. Reply Obj 1).

And why such terrible suffering? Here too some get stuck on thinking that God is blood thristy. We need not conclude this any more that we would conclude such a thing of a surgeon. The surgeon clearly makes use of radical proceedures, slicing open the body, sawing through bones, cutting out flesh and the like. But strong medicine is needed when the situation is grave. Rather than looking at the crucifixion and saying, God has a problem (i.e. he is blood-thirsty) we ought to see how desperate our problem is. Sin is a very serious condition and we should not make light of it. In order to resolve our problem, God had to resort to this.

But Jesus freely obeys his Father out of love for Him and for us. In his human will he obeyed the Father and so we are saved through the suffering that it entailed. St. Maximus the Confessor has a beautiful line: We are saved by the human decision of a divine person. Where Adam disobeyed, Christ obeyed, and hence we are saved. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Father for sending your only Son.

Do Not Doubt the Father’s Love and Truest Desire For You. A Meditation on Hosea 11

Two days ago we pondered the story of Hosea’s marriage and through had a glimpse into the heart of God. In today’s reading from Hosea at Mass we get another look into the heart of the Father, not from the perspective of God as husband, but this time,  from the perspective of God as Father and Israel as son. Here too we get another moving portrait of God who loves us tenderly and immensely but who is also grieved at His son’s rebelliousness and all the trouble it brings.

Perhaps we can look at Hosea 11 and grow in deeper knowledge and appreciation of God’s love for us as a Father. I have varied the verse order just bit to group the thoughts that the text treats more as parallelisms. I have kept the verse numbers so you can see my edits to the order. The text is in bold black and italics, my comments are in red.

  1. Fond memories – When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son…..3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. 4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed themGod the Father has always loved us. Jeremiah 1:4 attests that he knew and loved us before we were ever formed in our mother’s womb by Him. Here the moving image of a Father who loves and is proud of his son is given to us. There is the tender image of God, like a father, stooping down to feed his son. There are the bands (cords) of love and kindness that are tied, almost reminiscent of the swaddling clothes of an infant. This young son had wandered to Egypt and there was vexed and troubled (by 400 years of slavery). And God called for his son to come forth from that awful and fearful state. I once was at a store and noticed that a child became separated from his father. Suddenly he realized he did not know where his father was and he cried out “Daddy….Daddy!” Then the father a mere aisle over leaned back from around the end cap and said “Here I am…..come!” It was a moment of tender rescue and also of bonding for father and son. Clearly God’s son Israel was in a far worse jam than being lost in a store. But when Israel cried out to God, God,  through Moses and Aaron said, “Here I am…..Come!” ‘It was a moment of tender rescue and of bonding for Father and son. And so God describes his love for Israel from his infancy and youth with great fondness and tender love.
  2. Wandering son2 But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me.  They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images…..5 “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? 6 Swords will flash in their cities, will destroy the bars of their gates and put an end to their plans. We have all had the experience of a toddler or young child running from us when we wanted to hug them or console them. Perhaps they were just fidgety, or perhaps they were sulking. But as we reached out for them they turned away or ran off almost as if escaping something they feared or misunderstood. Under certain circumstances this can cause pain for us. God here expresses such a pain. He calls to His son, but His son runs further. Perhaps it is fear, perhaps misunderstanding, perhaps aversion and not wanting to be under authority. But hear the “grief” in the Father’s heart. I put grief in quotes since, as was said on Tuesday’s post, how God experiences passions such as grief, anger, sorrow and such is mysterious to us. These things are said by way of metaphor and analogy and they say something that is very real but exactly how God experiences something like grief is mysterious to us. God’s grief extends to what happens next. When His son Israel runs off bad things begin to happen. His son, turns to the false and fearsome gods of the Canaanites who even demanded child sacrifices. He also forms alliances with Egypt and thus incurs the wrath of Assyria. Israel’s wandering brought war and calamity. All of this grieves the heart of God. He also grieves at what our sin and wandering does to us. I have had the sad duty of burying more than a few young men who got involved in gang activity and died violently. It is often the case that their parents, like God here, remember back to their son’s more innocent years as a young child when they had more joy and less anger, when they were home instead of out running the streets. Yes, I have seen the same grief on the faces of parents that God expresses of himself here.
  3. Hardened sinner7 My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, they will by no means exalt them…..12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,  the house of Israel with deceit. And Judah is unruly against God, even against the faithful Holy One. God is grieved at Israel’s hard an impenitent heart. Occasionally they pay God lip service and go through ritual observances but they are not really worshipping God. Lies, deceit, and just plain unruly behavior are the norm. As God says in verse 8 below, this angers him, it causes pain and grief. We too are possibly guilty of lip service and mere ritualistic, half hearted observance. Meanwhile we stubbornly refuse to repent and can become hardened in sin and unruly and deceitful toward God. God is not indifferent to this. 
  4. Grieved and moved Father8“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is moved within me; all my compassion is aroused. 9 I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man— the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. Admah and Zeboiim were two cities destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah. But though he considers venting his anger, the Father recoils from it. His heart is moved with compassion. He will not punish as he did at Sodom. His mercy is stirred and he reminds us that He is not like a man who, having anger, must it seems always vent it. He does not seek revenge and has no egotistical need to “get back” at people. If he does punish it is always with conversion for us in mind.  It is medicine. Despite our lack of love, God renews his love and extends his mercy. Thanks be to God! This is the Father’s heart who said elsewhere, As I live, says the Lord, I do not wish the death of the sinner, but rather that he turn to me and live. (Ex 33:11)
  5. Homeward bound10 They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. 11 They will come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Assyria. I will settle them in their homes,”  declares the LORDThe Father’s ultimate goal for us all is that we will be with Him forever in heaven our true home. God restored ancient Israel, after the Babylonian captivity and once again the people, (his son Israel), were settled in their homes. But this is a prefigurement of a far greater settling that the Father provided for us due to Christ’s passion and resurrection. In the Father’s heavenly kingdom are many mansions and there he desires to settle us,  in our home. This is what is in the Father’s heart and what he desires for us. That Hell exists is not because the Father desires it for us but rather that He respects our choice insofar as His desire is concerned. He will not force His love upon us nor force us to accept the Kingdom of God and its values. We are summoned to love and love must be free. Thus Hell is real and many (according to Scripture) choose it and its values over heaven. But have no mistake what God desires for us: a great homecoming where he will settle us in our true home.

Here then is a second look into the heart of God, God the Father. Do not doubt His love and his truest desire for you.

Here is a video I recently put together. The  song is a plaintive, almost mournful spiritual. The text says, Sinner please(!) don’t let this harvest pass….before you die and lose your soul at last. Consider the text as coming from the Father.

Facets of a Faithful Father

The Gospel for today’s Mass provides a rich reflection for today’s observance of  Father’s Day in this country. The Lord gives three fundamental prescriptions for those who would be his prophets and witnesses. He tells them to be Personal, Passionate and Promising. While these prescriptions are not limited to fathers, yet I would like to apply them especially to fathers.

Here then are three Facets of a Faithful Father:

1. PERSONAL WITNESS – Jesus asks the apostles who the crowds say he is. Various answers are supplied: John the Baptist redivivus, Elijah, or one of the prophets of old. But then comes the question that they had to answer and so do we: But who do you say that I am? No prophet, no witness of Jesus, no father can evade this question. In the end we cannot merely quote what others say.

It is a true fact that we must never go off and invent our own religion. We must remain faithful to the teaching of the Church, to Scripture, to Tradition, to the Catechism. We must say with St. Paul, “I handed on to you what I myself received.” (1 Cor 11:23)

But it is also true that we cannot go on forever being a second-hand witness. It is not enough to know about God, we must personally know the Lord. It is not enough to say, “My pastor said….Saint so and so said…..my mother said…..” This witness is precious. But there comes a moment when we have to be able to declare in a very personal affirmation: “And I say….” We must be able to affirm what we personally know to be true. Faith has to move from a merely inferential understanding based on what others have said to an experiential declaration. In effect the Christian has to be able to say, “What the Church teaches, what Scriptures affirm, I personally know by experience to be true. I know the Lord, not just from the pages of a book, I know him for myself. I have personally experienced that what the Lord teaches through the Church and her Scriptures is infallibly true.

Every child needs this testimony from his or her father. Too many men today are passive fathers, especially when it comes to faith. They leave the task of the teaching of the faith to their wife and to other women. While it is surely true that a mother has an essential  role, as do other catechists, the scriptures say: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). Notice then that it is primarily the duty of the father to bring up his children in the training and instruction of the Lord. But as noted, most children get this from their mother in our culture. She brings them to Church, she teaches them prayer and reads to them from the Bible. While mothers do and should share this task, Scripture assigns this task primarily to fathers. A man raises his children in the training and practice of the faith. He teaches them to pray, he reads scripture to them and leads his wife and children to Mass every Sunday. He insists along with Joshua, “As for me and my household we shall serve the Lord.” (Jos 24:15)

And a father cannot be content to merely quote others, or read from book. He must personally testify to them about the faith. Every father must answer the Lord’s question: “Who do YOU say that I am.” He must come to the firm conviction and experience that Jesus Christ is the Lord, that he is Messiah and savior and the only name given by which he and his family will ever be saved. And, growing in his own personal knowledge and experience of God he must then give his personal witness to his wife and children. Children are starving today to hear of their father’s faith and to see him as a man who speaks with authority about the things of the Lord. Every, prophet and every father must give personal and first hand witness to the truth of the Faith.

2. PASSIONATE WITNESS – Lifting high the Cross is essential to the Christian witness. To say our witness should be passionate means that the Passion of the Christ must be central to our proclamation.

Jesus temporarily silences the apostles insofar as announcing that he is the Messiah due to misunderstandings of the day as to the true mission of the Messiah. He then goes on to teach: The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. In so doing he clarifies his true mission. But he also says, If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Thus he plants the cross firmly in the center of every Christian life.

We have come through a bad period in the history of the Church that has notably diminished the cross of Christ. In the 1970s and 80s it was fashionable to replace crucifixes with resurrection statues. Many parishes set aside kneeling at Mass since “kneeling is penitential but we are a ‘resurrection people.'”  Preaching too largely turned aside from announcing the demands of discipleship and the tribulations of living the faith in a world hostile to our faith. Instead, self esteem, affirmation, and “God is love” sermons predominated. Themes such as these and celebrating the resurrection are not bad in themselves but they were not balanced with sermons and teachings that were sober about sin and our need to battle against temptation, the world, the flesh and the devil. The cross of self-discipline and accepting the limits that faith reasonably insisted upon were suppressed. A kind of “Cross-less Christianity” became the norm.

But the true witness or prophet of Christ must hold high the Cross. Jesus insists upon it in today’s Gospel and many other places. Accepting the world’s hatred, resisting temptation, self-discipline, and conforming our lives to the revealed truth are all crosses we are expected to carry. We are also summon others to walk in these ways and help them to carry their crosses.

A father must surely give passionate witness to his children. First he must be willing to carry his cross for them, and sacrificially serve them. He must also insist that they learn of the cross. He must prepare them for the world’s scorn. He must insist that they learn self discipline and to resist sin. He must also ensure that they conform themselves to the truth. Where necessary he must discipline and impose the cross so that they learn it’s value.

I am surely grateful to my own father in this regard. He insisted that I do what was right and learn self-discipline. I learned that talking back to my mother and not doing what I was told had a price. I learned that he expected me to work hard to become a man. I was to study and get good grades. I was to be respectful of my elders and never defame my family’s name.  I was to grow into a good and productive citizen of this great land live a respectable and godly life. All of this required some crosses: self-discipline, curbing my excessive desires to goof off and be lazy, submitting to lawful authority and so forth. My Father insisted, like the Lord, that I carry such crosses and I am grateful.

3.PROMISING WITNESS– Jesus concludes the Gospel in these words: whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. In insisting on the Cross Jesus is not advocating suffering and self-denial for it’s own sake. Rather, the cross leads to life!

A Christian prophet and witness to the Lord ought to be able to know and then declare the truth of this in their life. The cross is like a tuning fork. Not only does it keep us on the right pitch or true Christianity  it also signals the beginning of a great symphony. In my own life I have discovered the truth of what the Lord declares. The more I have submitted myself to the Lord and followed the way of the Cross, the more I have found true life. In dying increasingly to sin by the Lord’s grace I am coming more to life. I am less greedy, more generous, less lustful, more loving, less angry, more amiable, less critical, more compassionate, less timid, more trusting. God never fails. He holds forth the cross only to give life. And I promise you in the Lord Jesus Christ, that if you will take up the cross you will find life.

Every Father must also be able to declare this to his children. He must be able to show in his own life how obeying the Lord and accepting life’s crosses has brought blessings. He must give his children hope and zeal in the crosses they endure and the crosses he must sometimes impose. He must point his children to a better way and help them desire it at great cost. My own Father made me many promises that my life would be far better, simpler and peaceful if I would learn to discipline myself, learn self-control, respect my elders and stay away from sinful and self-destructive behaviors. And he was right. He always linked the disciplines he imposed to a better life in the future. I am glad he saw a better life for me and insisted that I carry the cross to get there. It was just his own way of saying, “Whoever looses his life for the Lord and for what is right and just, will save it.”  Thanks Dad.

By the way that’s my dad in the photo above, I am at the far right.