How do I get off the treadmill? (Fathers Day 2014)

FathersDay2014

Read: Phil 3:7-11

While becoming a father is pretty straightforward, being a father is a different matter.

Kids start as cute little bundles. We’re amazed to see them grow, thrilled as they respond to our voices, celebrating their first steps.

Then, in what seems like the blink of an eye, they are 14 years old, and we’re carting them from School to ballet to soccer to youth group to Nick’s place ‘coz he’s having a party, and ‘can I have $20 for Maccas after the party please Dad, yes, we are going to Maccas after the party because, well, parties are hard work, and we’ll get hungry and can you pick me up at 10 and also take Harry and Zac home – yes, because their Dads are too busy…’

Is there no end to this?

Add to that the pressure of what’s happening at work with the boss raising the bar, throwing more work our way, and wanting us to do all of that for the same money.

Then there are the mortgage payments. The car payments. Credit card payments.

Then groceries, health care, clothing, …where does all the money go?

It seems that more and more fathers are burning the candle at both ends.

“The way we live is emerging as a major cause of illness: stress either directly or indirectly contributes to heart disease, cancer, liver ailments, and accidents…
Gordon MacDonald

“Stress has changed the way we work, organise a family, child rearing, education and even welfare
Norman Swan, ABC Health Report

So fathers try all sorts of ways to manage their stress.

Alcohol: a couple of beers at the end of the day to unwind.

Eating: nothing like a good steak to help a guy de-stress.

Work out: Hit the Gym, cycle hard, Tough Mudder.

Get more stuff: Huge Flat screen, new boat, new muscle car, road bike (without pedals).

Work harder: impress the boss, get the promotion, nail the deal, make a killing.

No one needs a guilt trip, but in this stress filled lifestyle we need to take a step back and ask whether it’s helping us be better Dads, helping us connect with our kids, helping us reflect God’s Kingdom?

We need to ask: how do I know I am a good Dad?

Is it because I provide well for my family?

Is it because I’m successful at work?

Can I see it in my trophies? The house – in which suburb, and what street? Really? The car: which model was that? How fast?

Men, fathers, why are we so driven to achieve? Why do we grade our success with things and trophies?

Success is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends how it is defined. Our problem is that we are often so busy working for the next great thing that we miss what this does to us in the long run.

So, how is all this relevant to following Jesus?

The man who wrote the letter to the Philippian church, Paul, knows all about performance stress. He had worked hard all his life to excel at just about everything his culture demanded. He had a stack of credentials which in his day was every man’s dream:

“… If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Philippians 3:4–6, NIV)

Brilliant pedigree. Impressive education. Professional expertise. Intense religious devotion expressed in the zealous pursuit of a punishing regime of religious cleansing. No doubt about it: Paul had a killer attitude. He is there while a mob of religious fanatics lynch a man named Stephen because he had the gall to follow Jesus and encourage them to do the same.

Acts 7:57-58; 8:1-3

It was like Rambo, Schwarzeneggar and Al Mohler rolled into one package.

Why was Paul doing this?

What inner void was he trying to fill?

What was the hunger that could not be satisfied?

Whatever it was, this great man was brought to a point where he realised that while his performance gave him credibility with people, it was worthless before God.

Worthless.

That’s a disturbing question, isn’t it? What is the value of having reputation, material wealth, and its trophies if ultimately, in terms of real life, true life, it delivers nothing? What if all those things you strive for and stress over, what if they are never going to deliver? What if they are worthless?

What if all those things you strive for and stress over, what if they are never going to deliver?

Paul’s story tells us there is hope: there is a kind of life that does not come via financial independence, the things you can buy, or your career path.

This life does not come by what you do. It comes by what someone else has done. It comes by what Jesus has done.

For Paul, meeting Jesus was the start of a remarkable transformation: He went from being entirely focussed on his performance to focussing entirely on Jesus’ performance.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7, NIV)

It was not a easy start. Jesus had to knock him off his horse to get his attention. If your life revolves around your performance, and your security comes from achievement, what might Jesus have to do to you to get your undivided attention?

2012 06 23 A woman looks up at a human size jenga tower

If you’ve ever played Jenga, you know that the early stages of the game are easy. You can pull each piece out and place it on the top without too much trouble. As time goes on it gets harder. You can still extract a piece, but you really have to be careful. And then the inevitable happens. You have built this great tower, and all you want is one more piece, one more go, one more attempt. But it all comes crashing down. This is what it’s like trying to build a life around your own achievements and ignoring the life God has for you in Jesus. You might keep ignoring the obvious, but don’t be surprised when it comes crashing down. God did not intend for anyone to live that way.

Paul soon discovered that the life he hungered for would only came through Jesus:

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:8–9, NIV)

Paul had been trying to create his own righteousness – his own acceptance with God – by his achievements. He had been striving for something he could never achieve. He was seeking to do what could never be done.

He came to see that everything he was seeking could come only through Jesus’ achievements. Given by grace. Characterised by forgiveness and love. Received in faith.
It changed his life totally.

Sure, he was still a very passionate man after he came to know Jesus, but his energy was directed to thanking God for his love, instead of trying to win it through achievement. The Gospel of Jesus changed his life completely.

Here’s the question: Is your hope in your achievements? Or in acceptance with the God of heaven and earth, his promise to live in you by His Spirit, his guarantee that your failure is dealt with through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the reality that life though Jesus can never be taken away?

Can you see the wider relevance of this to being a man, a father? Jesus frees you to down shift. To drop some revs. To get off the treadmill of achievement and approval.

When Jesus is your life and your hope, he frees you to back off. You don’t have to be so driven. You don’t have to perform to win his love. Everything that needed to be done to put your life back together and bring you into God’s family has been done through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, his cross, his resurrection.

And what remains is for you to ‘live up to’, or ‘live into’, or ‘live out’ what he has given. That’s what Paul became so passionate about.

“…just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4, NIV)

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God…” (Colossians 3:1–2, NIV)

Paul put it in the language of attaining to the resurrection of the dead.

“I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV)

“Attaining to the resurrection” does not only mean ‘get raised up when Jesus returns’. It also means to live his new life now. To bring Jesus’ reality into your reality here. It means bringing his new life, his new creation, to expression today (see 2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 3:1-4)

Fathers, Jesus says, “I have freed you from the treadmill. And I free you to concentrate on the things that really matter.”

Following Jesus always means a radically changed life. In the next chapter of this letter to the Philippian church, Paul shows how this impacts in a situation where two people have had a long standing disagreement. They are urged to be of one mind. The reason? When people come under Jesus’ rule, it impacts on their relationships. All aspects of their life, in fact.

We could say when a father comes under Jesus rule, he stops trying to earn affirmation and acceptance, from God and others, by his own achievements. He accepts what Jesus has achieved on the cross, and his resurrection impacts everything. That got to impact relationships, right?

What matters is you living Jesus’ life and showing Jesus’ love to your children.

In another letter, Ephesians, this is more pronounced. Following Jesus revolutionises husband and wife relationships. Children & parent relationships. Fathers and children. Slaves and masters, we might say employers and employees.

Fathers: our children will remember us more for our time and our love than our money or the things we might give. Social pedigree is not worth it. Abs are overrated. Toys are no big deal. What matters is you living Jesus’ life and showing Jesus’ love to your children.

Think of some key areas where Jesus’ transformation could be seen in your life and relationships.

Time: Why not plan some Dad’s dates with your daughter? Or a boy’s night with your son? It doesn’t really matter how old they are. I was speaking recently with a middle aged father who just recently took his adult daughter out for a date night and some one-on-one. His eyes lit up as he told be how great it was. It was so meaningful for his daughter that she cried a little while they were talking that evening.

Faith: Tell your children why Jesus matters to you. Tell them why you love his grace and forgiveness. Tell them about the difference he makes in your life. Remember: they’ll know the truth of your words by how you live. You can’t fake this stuff. So don’t only say it, show them that following Jesus is the most natural way to live.

Community: We have a lot of fathers here: why doesn’t someone start a Dad’s ministry? Something fathers can do with their children or their families? Get the 4WD out in the bush for a weekend, go camping together, sit around an open fire. Get some intentional discussion and sharing happening. Tell stories about what it was like growing up. There are some great ideas a The Fathering Project website.

Ask honest questions: Fathers, we know how easy it is to focus on our tasks and let meaningful relationships slide a little. So from time to time ask your spouse ‘How can I be a better father? What do I need to change? Am I working too hard?’ Ask them to tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear. Then, ask God to help you make the changes you need to make in the power of his risen Son.

The day will come for all of us when we will look back over our lives and review the choices we have made. Very few fathers will say ‘boy, I was glad I bought that bigger boat’ or ‘I’m so happy I worked all that overtime’.

The most meaningful memories will be how we built lasting relationships with our children, and how we were able to show them something of a life transformed by the love and grace of Jesus.

Spend some time in prayer asking God to empower you to make decisions that will reflect the kingdom of Jesus. Ask him to help you off the treadmill. Ask him for the passion to value the affirmation of being loved and forgiven by Jesus more than the culturally defined acceptance based on wealth, status and material possessions.

[During the month of September we’re taking a break from The Relationship Challenge. A few local events, as well as Father’s Day, meant the teaching program would have suffered too many interruptions. We will come back to The Relationship Challenge in October – DG]

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: