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Fabulous Fatherhood

"From the wild Irish slums of the 19th century eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations about the future -- that community asks for and gets chaos." --Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1965

 Sunday, my pastor said the word Jesus used most for God was Heavenly Father. Sadly, many people choke on that phrase. Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism, had such a difficult relationship with his father that for many years he could not refer to God as Father. I can relate. My own father was raised by a cruel stepfather who never let him forget he was not really his son. Consequently, Dad had no real clue how to be a father to me. As most parents do, he did his "crummy best," but the rage that smoldered in his bosom so often flared out at me that 25 years after his death, I still struggle with my own anger.

 Healing has helped me a lot with that. And I must say the healing that helped the most came through friends and small groups, not just the lone ranger, "me and Jesus" variety. It clarified my image of God to the point where I could see Him as He really is. Perhaps this is why the Bible says, "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation. God sets the solitary in families; He brings out those who are bound into prosperity; But the rebellious dwell in a dry land" (Ps.68:5). 

 We would all prefer if Jesus would just heal us without using other people. When we turn to others for help, we have to come clean and those who help us inevitably see our dirty laundry. But it's precisely then that small group healing helps us the most.


 True biblical fellowship is far more than the back of someone's head. The early Christians ate, prayed, learned, shared and confessed to one another in homes as well as larger worship services. They helped each other in every area of their lives. Their interactions were intimate, their relationships close. How much healthier would the church be today if Christians did that too?

 The first growth retreat I went showed me 'God with skin'. I fell into an adolescent infatuation with a woman at the retreat. While embarrassing, it made me face how self-righteous and unloving I had become. Because my small group was designed for closeness and confidentiality, I risked confessing it to them. Instead of judging me, the group extended grace to me, proceeding to share their personal struggles as well. It was the first group of Christians I'd been with who weren't intent upon showing everyone how 'squeaky clean' they were. The healing I received from that experience forever changed my view of God. You could even say it healed my theology.

 You see, I thought God was like my earthly father, a harsh, stern, angry deity with no tolerance for accidents let alone rebellion or outright sin. When gracious Christians listened uncritically, resisting the temptation to offer cheap advice or paste a Bible verse Band-Aid over my spiritual cancer, I could see the situation for what it truly was. At a deep level, I didn't want an affair, I wanted love. Buried beneath my lust, I was still mourning the death of my grandfather over 20 years earlier. Through my small group's mercy, I was able to find God's. Because of their compassion, I could risk exposing and dealing with the deep root causes of my sin and not just treat its symptoms with superficial and all too temporary repentance. That's the kind of stuff that changes lives. Ever since then, I have labored to create similar experiences for people at all my retreats.

 Through close relationships with other Christians I learned that God wasn't against me for my sin, He was for me, against my sin. I discovered that God loves broken sinners but He hates the sin that broke them. The reason He hates sin is because He loves us sinners, and sin destroys our health, peace, relationships, well-being, and even sometimes our very life.

 When I say God healed my theology, here's what I mean. Theology is the knowledge of God. My view of God was clouded by my image of my earthly father. I saw God through my 'daddy-shaped lens' and it distorted His divine image. Through the love, grace, care and wisdom of my brothers and sisters I discovered that God isn't a perfectionist, He's a perfect Father. He doesn't need me to be good so He looks good, He IS good, and He yearns to share His goodness with me. Not only is virtue it's own reward, but sin is also its own punishment. The wages of sin are simply not enough. Sin is a promising employer but a lousy paymaster. As fun as sin is it wreaks havoc on our lives. Whether we use lust to find love or try in vain to fill our inner emptiness with food, whether we savor the delicious morsels of malicious gossip or the sensual escape of pornography, nothing but God's love can slake our spiritual thirst or satisfy our horrendous inner hunger.

  Our deepest need is love. God doesn't have love, He IS love. Our souls can't even rest 'til we find ourselves in Him. Once we truly believe that, we will run to Him, not away from Him. No wonder Satan tries so hard to convince us that our Heavenly Father is a harsh, cold, unforgiving taskmaster. The last thing Satan wants is for us to get our need for love met through God. 

 If the truth were told, none of us is perfect. We all sin daily. Anyone who says he doesn't is in deep denial. But "when we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from ALL unrighteousness" ( I John 1:7). Interestingly, this passage doesn't say it cleanses us from all unholiness, though that's covered also. It specifically mentions unrighteousness.

 The distinction is crucial. The goal of a truly spiritual life isn't to make us good little girls and boys. We need to learn a lot more than just how to break our bad habits. The role of discipleship is to teach us to love. That's the heart of all the law, the essence of genuine righteousness -- loving God above all else and our neighbors as ourselves -- loving even our enemies. But how can we do that if we hate ourselves?

 Here again intimate Christian relationships make all the difference. It's one thing to know God loves, you, quite another to realize that others love you too, especially if they know you at your worst.

 One of the great stories to come from the Chicken Soul for the Soul series tells of an elementary school class with a teacher committed to helping her students with their self-concept. She had her students write something positive about each classmate. She then gave every child those responses. Each was in awe. They had no idea their friends saw so many fine qualities in them. Most of the students kept those lists from their classmates for their entire lives. Some carried them in their wallet for decades.

 Yet as wonderful as that is, how much better is our heavenly Father's affirmation of us. It may be mediated through other people, or received from a scripture that grabs us, or it could come straight from the Holy Spirit's indwelling Presence. We need all three. But once you know God loves you and you can do nothing to make Him stop loving you, all of life looks very different. When you realize that He knows everything that made you the way you are and He totally understands, you can finally receive forgiveness. Eventually, you can even cut yourself some slack. In this proper fear of the Lord, there is strong confidence. Once you have that, you can do anything.

 No earthly father can ever compare to the fabulous fatherhood of our Heavenly Father.



Ken Unger is President of and founder of, where you can learn more about him and his transformative ministry. click here ,
 "Ken's new book, The Ultimate Breakthrough, goes beyond self help to self healing. You can preview it at  The Ultimate Breakthrough "
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