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


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.


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]

The Myth of Mr/Ms Right – The Relationship Challenge #2 (Group Questions)

Discussion Questions


Did you/Do you ever dream of Mr/Ms Right? Describe this person to your group.

Lawrence Crabb describes the desire for someone to meet all my needs as parasitic. Do you agree with his assessment? Why/Why not?


Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2 and Ephesians 5:21-27

Ephesians 4:29 says our word should be directed to the needs of the other. In Philippians 2:3-4 we are called to value others above ourselves.

  • On what basis are these commands given?
  • To what extent is this call realistic for relationships?
  • If you are a Christian, how has this worked in your life and relationships?

Does Jesus really demand that you be prepared to do all the bending?

  • What responsibilities belong to other person then?
  • Is there a point where you say, “I’ll go this far, and no further”?
  • Tim Keller writes, “All Christians who really understand the Gospel undergo a radical change in the way they relate to people.”

  • What has enabled this change in your life?
  • What still needs to happen for this change to come to greater expression in your life?
  • How could your church community better support people seeking to make these changes in their relationships, marriages, and families?
  • The Myth of Mr/Ms Right – The Relationship Challenge #2

    Read: Ephesians 5:21-27

    2 peas in a pod 300x203

    Not sure if it has happened to you, but as one who goes to his fair share of weddings, some of my worst wedding experiences have not been with bride or groom, or the in-laws.
    The worst times are when you are seated, next to someone’s obnoxious relative.

    They have probably only been invited because they are the filthy rich, or they’ve whinged their way onto the guest list, or they own a beachfront villa which the happy couple are hoping to nail for the honeymoon.

    I remember one experience where we’d been making small talk over a not too shabby main course when Uncle Bruce leant right in and said, eyeball to eyeball, ‘can I talk about something with you?’ For the next hour or so lectured me on the evils of food additives, conspiracy theories about supermarket domination, and underhanded government policies of diet control. What was I supposed to do? I realised I was trapped. I started hoping someone would ring me with news of a tragedy and I would have to leave…

    I walked away thinking, ‘don’t worry about food additives, the conversational style (which I call ‘the Tsunami’), was enough to give me hives!

    The last thing you want is to get stuck with someone you can’t stand.

    That’s why we talk about compatibility when it comes to relationships. People dream of Mr or Ms Right, who will come along and steal their heart. Behind that whole dream is a belief that if you find the right person, compatibility will just follow.

    The Myth of Compatibility

    This dream of Mr Right involves the idea that there’s one person out there who will make all my dreams come true. But look at what’s happening there:

    It’s all about “me”.

    I will have fun.

    I will be happy.

    I will find true love.

    Tim Keller, in his book ‘The Meaning of Marriage‘, identifies some problems with this ‘me centred’ view. The first is that the other person will probably also be operating with the same “me centred” view of relationship.

    Keller’s pretty right: Just about everybody out there is hoping for someone who will make them happy, who will sweep them off their feet, who will be the man or woman of their dreams.

    The next problem is that when two people are both operating from a ‘me centred’ perspective, they both come with a relational vacuum. And when you add one vacuum to another vacuum, all you get is a stronger vacuum. A great big sucking sound.

    Christian counsellor Lawrence Crabb uses a different image. He says, people who are looking for someone else to change their lives and meet their needs have a parasitic view of relationship. He calls it a ‘tick on a dog’ relationship. And then he adds, ‘the only trouble is that you have two ticks, and no dog.’

    This doesn’t mean we should jettison all hope for compatibility. Neal Warren says
    “The most stable marriages are those that involve two people with many similarities.”

    And some will know, when two people go through pre-marriage counselling here at Gateway, we use a questionnaire which, while it does not determine compatibility, it does identify areas of agreement: where a couple have similar views and expectations. Compatibility is important. But what’s more important is that compatibility rests on the best foundation.

    Christ’s selflessness

    The Bible says the best way to build compatibility in your relationship is to share your relationship with Jesus. That’s what we read about in Ephesians 5.

    We read about submitting to one another.

    About loving one another.

    About giving up oneself for another.

    These words come in the context of what has gone before:

    “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:29–5:2, NIV)

    In other words: you are in relationship with Jesus, let his relationship with you define all the others. Let the character of Jesus’ relationship with you define all your other relationships. And the first way we see that is in a call to selflessness.
    To give up your rights.

    Are you thinking about relationships? What kind of relationship you might have in the future? As a Christian you need to understand that the Gospel of Jesus is a direct challenge to the ‘me first’ view of relationship, so common in our culture.

    In Jesus’ culture, his alternate culture, his new life, it is ‘them first’, ‘the other first’.

    Are you really saying I should let them go first? Put their needs before mine?

    Not a popular notion, is it?

    In a world where people are taught from an early age to be themselves, that their wants matter, that they are important, this idea of serving another is confronting and disturbing. People think it’s humiliating. Condescending. ‘Why do I have to think less of myself?’

    Keller has the sound bite here: “It’s not thinking less of yourself. It’s just thinking of yourself less.”

    When Christ calls us to submit to one another, he is calling us to put the needs of the other first.

    “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV)

    Now I know someone will point out that in v.22 the word ‘submit’ is used for what the wife must do, and in v.25 ‘love’ is used for what the husband must do. As if the husband does not have to submit to the wife.

    What we need to understand is that in the original, the word ‘submit’ does not occur in v.22. Verse 22 is really a run on sentence from v.21, and translators borrow the verb ‘submit’ – quite properly – from v.21.

    What all this means is that submission, as defined in v.21, is essentially a mutual thing. And this idea of mutual submission as expressed in v.21 defines what follows.
    It is misusing this passage to assert that submission is what the wife has to do, and love is what the husband has to do.

    So understanding that submission is something for both husband and wife, we understand this is a call to both of them to place the needs of the other above their own. This can only come at a considerable cost to the giver.

    We see this in Philippians 2. Jesus submitted by placing the needs of his people, their rescue, above his own claim to glory, honour and power. He made himself a servant of the church. He made himself your servant. Your slave.

    We read about submission in 1 Cor 13. In that great chapter on love, a whole lot of things are said about love. And one of the things said is this:

    “Love… is not self-seeking…” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV)

    Can you see what this would do to our quest for compatibility? It totally reverses the typical direction.

    We move from “I’m looking for someone to meet my needs and make me happy” to “I’m looking for someone I can serve, someone whose needs I can meet. I want to do whatever I can to make them happy.”

    The words “I want” are replaced with “I am here to love you and serve you – your needs matter more than my wants. I want to help you thrive. I submit everything I am and everything I have to your needs.”

    Christ’s sacrifice

    Can you can see why this is such a challenge? Here we are, thinking that it’s all about us, and then in the Gospel we learn it is not actually about us at all. Tim Keller is right to say:

    All Christians who really understand the gospel undergo a radical change in the way they relate to people

    A radical change, friends. A change the penetrates right to the heart, right to the core of who we are and how we live.

    How does this change happen?

    Well, it is not simply using Christ as a model. It is being in relationship with Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It is having His Holy Spirit poured into your life through this relationship with Jesus.

    “… be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18, NIV)

    “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NIV)

    This change comes to those loved by Jesus, those whom he has given himself for. To those who bow the knee to his rule, who bow to the transformation of their life and their values, who are empowered and enabled by His love.

    Once again, Keller:

    Without the help of the Holy Spirit, without a continual filling of your soul’s tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful. … It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.

    Did you catch that last sentence? “It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.”

    You want relationship grounded in compatibility?

    It can only happen, you can only do this with Jesus’ supernatural power, his redeeming grace, his enabling Spirit empowering you.

    Imagine that! Through his death and rising, Jesus enables a change, a complete change of life direction. A complete change!

    From me first, to them first.

    From my wants, to their needs.

    From my happiness, to their growth, to them thriving.

    I stop thinking about myself first, and I make their needs more important than my own.

    For those of us who are married: think about how this would change your relationship.
    Think about the areas of tension or disagreement in your relationship. That argument. That disagreement with your wife. That clash with your husband.

    Jesus says to you, right here, right now, “I want you to be prepared to do all the bending here.”

    Are you listening?

    “I want you to be prepared to do all the bending here.”

    Jesus is saying: “I want you to be prepared to do all the giving, all the letting go.”

    The emphasis becomes ‘how can I make myself, my interests, my behaviour, my love, compatible to theirs. How can I direct my entire self to serving them?

    Isn’t this revolutionary?

    You may ask, how far do I have to go with that? Do I really have to bend that much? Give up that much? Go that far?

    Well, how far did Jesus go? God’s word is crystal clear:

    “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5–8, NIV)

    This revolutionises relationship, doesn’t it? To count myself as nothing. Take the nature of a servant.

    It changes the whole sense of waiting for Mr Right, and exposes it for the myth it is.

    Single people: It’s not true that there’s only one person out there for you. There are any number of people out there with whom you could form a healthy relationship.

    Relationship is not about you finding the right person. It’s about you – through Jesus, like Jesus, in the power of Jesus’ selflessness and sacrifice – being the right person.