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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:God Is Always My Father
Text:LD 9 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-11-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Psalm 88

Lesson: Lord’s Day 9

 

GOD IS ALWAYS MY FATHER

  1. Though He is Unlike Other Fathers,

  2. Though His Providence may be Painful,

  3. All will be Well

 

  1. Psalm 8: 1, 3, 4

  2. Psalm 88: 1, 3, 7

  3. When Peace Like a River: 1-4

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Psalm 146: 1, 3, 4

  6. Hymn 66:1-3

 

Words to Listen For: volleyball, reluctant, layer, pipe, stump

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. Why is looking up both humbling and uplifting?

  2. What does “Father” mean?  How do earthly fathers fail at it?

  3. What are the two phases of mature faith?

  4. Why do we have a desire for peace?

  5. Why does the pastor like flying?

  6. Why does God love us?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved children of God,

There is something so amazing about looking up at the night sky.  Something that, if you know your Bible, is at once uplifting and humbling.

It is uplifting because when we look out at the millions of stars, when we look at the stars that twinkle, the other stars that shoot across the sky, when we see the sun that shines and the moon that glows, the northern lights that dance, the sunrises and sunsets that take our breath away…and we remember that, not only does the sky exist for the glory of God - Psalm 19, but indeed, this is also FOR US.

Genesis 1:14 - And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.  And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years, and let them be lights in the expanse of heaven to give light upon the earth.

The purpose of the sun, the moon, and the stars is to HELP US.  To help us know day from night, to help us tell time, and even…that last line there: let them be lights in the expanse of heaven to give light upon the earth…the moon and the stars serve, we could say,  as our “cosmic night light.”

God made these things FOR US!

And, what is more, when we turn our eyes upwards and marvel at this creation, taking pictures of it, painting it on canvas, or making a mural on a wall…these things we marvel at, God only calls GOOD, but He calls us VERY GOOD.

Imagine if we saw ourselves that way.  Imagine if we saw others that way.  To see them as though they were at least as beautiful as a sunrise.  At least as awe-inspiring as a shooting star.  What if we saw others the way that GOD sees them?

To which sunset did God ever say “You are my son” ?  Did God ever write a love-letter to the moon or to the stars, calling them “beloved” referring to them as His “darling children” ?  NO!  That language, that love, is reserved for US.  Looking up can really uplift us.

But it can also humble us.

Because we read these true and loving and beautiful words about how God sees us…and we think…WHY?  WHY ME?  I’m so tiny in the grand scheme of it all!

Imagine the scale of this all.

If we reduced the earth to the size of a marble and placed on the Lord’s Supper table in front of us, so tiny that we can barely see continents, much less countries, much less cities, much less human beings…

We could place another marble, half the size of the first, at the first pew.  That represents the moon.

Then, all the way behind the church, in the school building, we would set a volleyball.  That represents the sun - our nearest star.

If we would want to include the next closest star, where do you think it would be?  How far away would that be from us?  Pretty far.  Maybe…Tynehead Park?  No…it’s a lot further than that.  Maybe…Coquitlam?  Maybe…Prince George?

No!  If we continue in the same direction, we continue driving, flying north…we would have to go all the way around the world.  I looked it up.  Over 20 000 kilometers away with our marble scale…20 000 kilometers - that’s north from Surrey, over the north pole, to Tehran, (about halfway), and then continuing, around the south pole, back to Surrey.  That’s how far away the next star would be.

And all of this…in our little galaxy.  One of millions, or even billions in the universe.

And on this tiny marble so utterly insignificant…on this tiny marble, that is where we make our confession of faith “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.”  Tiny people on a tiny marble, a mere speck in the universe…we have the boldness to claim that GOD, the One who made all of this out of nothing…that HE is OUR FATHER.

It is unthinkable.  It is mind-boggling.  It is, by all accounts, ABSURD.  It makes NO SENSE that we could claim this.  It would be the height of arrogance…that is…if God hadn’t said it about us first.

This afternoon, let us confess together the beautiful, crazy, unbelievable fact that 

 

GOD IS ALWAYS MY FATHER

  1. Though He is Unlike Other Fathers,

  2. Though His Providence may be Painful,

  3. All will be Well

 

GOD IS ALWAYS MY FATHER, THOUGH HE IS DIFFERENT FROM MY EARTHLY FATHER

As we look at Lord’s Day 9 together, we can see so many theological gems that we could unpack here together.

 

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

The eternal Fatherhood of God.  He was always Father.  And Jesus Christ was always Son.  What does that even MEAN?

 

Who out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them

Creation, ex-nihilo.  Creation out of nothing.  It didn’t evolve out of some primordial ooze, God didn’t just work with the raw materials that were somehow there already…God spoke existence into existence.

 

Who still upholds and governs them by His eternal counsel and providence

God PROVIDES, and God has an ETERNAL COUNSEL.  He has an eternal plan for creation.  Choosing HIS PEOPLE before time.  Doing everything for HIS CHURCH.

 

Each of these, any of these could be a sermon in and of itself.

Trying to mind the depths of the divine relationships in the Trinity, focussing in on Genesis and creation, trying to peer into the hidden things of God and His eternal counsel…we can do that….and maybe we will.  Someday.

But the purpose of this Lord’s Day isn’t all of these things.  The purpose of the Lord’s Day is primarily about the IDENTITY of our God.  WHAT HE HAS DONE flows out of that identity, but it’s really all about the WHO.

And who our Heavenly Father is…well…He is, at the risk of stating the obvious…He is a Father.

And not JUST a Father, but THE FIRST FATHER.  We get this word from Him, you know.  We can read this in Ephesians 3.

 

Ephesians 3:14 and 15 - For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.

Every family.  You can see in the footnote in your Bible that is says “or fatherhood.”  This is a word that can mean FAMILY, or can mean FATHER.  And with the closeness to “Father” in the previous verse, this is the likely translation.

 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every father/ from whom ALL FATHERHOOD in heaven and on earth is named.

“Father” isn’t a title that WE gave to GOD, but rather, it is an EXAMPLE that HE gave to US.

But what does it mean?  What does the word, what does the title “Father” really mean?

Because all of us, even those who have had the best earthly fathers imaginable…we have never experienced pure and perfect Fatherhood from another human being.

So what SHOULD it look like?  What has God demonstrated to us about what “Father” actually means?

I spent quite some time this week trying to come up with a definition of “Father” that would encompass all of who God is - what should be focused on…but really it’s quite simple.  I didn’t have to do all of this extra work, this extra research, because it’s all right there in front of us.  The last line of this Lord’s Day - He is able to do so as Almighty God, and willing also as a Faithful Father.

What does “Father” mean?  Truly?

It means someone who is POWERFUL.  Perfectly powerful.

It means someone who is LOVING.  Perfectly loving.

 

It is no accident, it is no coincidence that children argue on the playground about whose dad is stronger.  “My dad can beat up your dad!”  It is no accident, it is no coincidence that Dad is typically the one to play a little rougher with the kids  A way that fathers show love, is by tossing their children up in the air when they’re little, and wrestling with them, especially with their sons, when they’re older - strength is something that fathers love to demonstrate.

But strength without love, strength without gentleness and goodness…is a dangerous thing.  And so the idea of God using His almighty and infinite strength in almighty and infinite love…this is KEY to Fatherhood.

The strength that you are given, physical strength, but not only that, moral strength, emotional strength…must be used in perfect love.

And earthly fathers fail to do this.  Earthly fathers do not always use their strength.  Earthly fathers can be reluctant to lead in the home and use the strength that God has given them for this purpose.  Earthly fathers can fail in the area of strength.

And earthly fathers can also fail in the area of love.  Where some fathers flee from leadership, others embrace it all too readily and then misuse it.  Their strength is not tempered by gentleness.  Their strength is not used in love.  It is not used to protect and to defend, but rather to attack.

There are bad earthly fathers out there…but this does not reflect onto God.

It’s so much more than the fact that we have A Father in heaven.  Maybe some of us hear this and be tense up.  I DON’T WANT A FATHER IN HEAVEN.  One father is more than enough, thank you!

 

But it’s more than the fact that we have A Father.  We have a PERFECT FATHER.  We have a Father who has no evil in Him, and cannot be tempted by evil.

Think about it this way…even if you had the very best father that earth has ever produced, a man who was kind, and generous, and loving and strong in all the right ways…you still have A BETTER FATHER waiting for you in heaven.  The difference between a good and a bad earthly father is TINY in the grand scheme of things…while the difference between God and the best earthly father is INFINITE!  A millimeter from bad to good, and a million lightyears from good to PERFECT.

Your Heavenly Father has none of the weaknesses or sins of your earthly father.  He will never struggle with His limitations, He will never fail to be strong, He will never struggle to be loving.  These things ARE WHO HE IS.  Everything He does is by the perfectly loving use of His perfect power.

But what then of the times when it feels as though God has failed?  An earthly father can only fail us so much…but a Heavenly Father…just as the joy and comfort can be multiplied, so can the pain.  So what happens when God’s providence includes our pain?  Our second point.

Here we come to our reading.  Psalm 88.  Not a song that is sung too often.  It's not the tune that's the main problem - it’s not too obscure or hard to sing…it’s the CONTENT.

One line, one line in the 8 stanzas, half of one verse in 18…has hope.  And it’s right at the start.

 

O LORD, the God who rescues me

And then the rest of the psalm shows that, though this is the psalmist’s CONFESSION, it is not his EXPERIENCE.

 

God, you are the one who rescues me…but you’re NOT.

This psalm is, very clearly, a LAMENT.  One of the darkest in all of scripture.

One commentator says, and I agree, “It’s good we have a psalm like this, but also good that we have only one.”

This is a lament that does not have a shift towards hope.  The only positive line is right at the beginning, and the psalm ends with the line “darkness is my closest friend.”

But what this psalm does, what all the various psalms of lament do, is that they give voice to our pain.  They give voice to our hopelessness and our struggle.

Because point 1 is all well and good…Lord’s Day 9 is all true, and scriptural and beautiful…but…when our lives look a little more like Psalm 88…all of the Biblical truth in the world can ring hollow in our ears.

“God is Good”

  • Yes I know…

  • But not to me.

  • Not right now.

 

It’s not enough to say, as we heard this morning “this too will pass.”  It’s TRUE.  This kind of thing WILL PASS.  This suffering is temporary, whereas our identity in God is eternal, our comfort is a comfort that lasts in life and in death…

but while we are in it, while we are in the pain and confusion, the isolation, when, as the psalmist says

I am a man who has no strength

Your wrath lies heavy on me

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away

Darkness is my closest friend

 

It’s not enough to say “it won’t be like this forever.”

That’s an ELEMENT of our comfort, but the one who is suffering isn’t focused on FOREVER…he is focused on NOW.

 

It won’t be like this forever

    Yes…but it’s like this NOW.  I’m suffering NOW.

 

So this is the problem.  What can we do with it?

 

One of you might say: FAITH!  Having faith will help.  The acknowledgement that even though the SITUATION is bad, GOD is good!

And while this is true, while faith is the only possible way out of a deep lament like we find in Psalm 88, we have to acknowledge that, at first, faith may actually make it worse.

We see this is the experience of the psalmist.

It is his FAITH that adds another layer of sadness.

If this world was all that there is, if we existed only by random chance, our suffering would at least make sense.  The universe is cold and uncaring, I’m a tiny speck of dust, everything is purely random, some days, some seasons will be difficult.  It’s hard, but it makes sense.

But when you are a covenant child…

When you cry out, not only to God, as some generic deity, but you call out to the LORD - to Yahweh, when you acknowledge that He is the God of your salvation…

When you know that the Lord is the one who does wonders, that He is the one with whom there is steadfast love…

And your circumstances do not match the character of the one in control…faith can make it worse.

God is the one who hears prayer…and I’m praying…but it seems that He is ignoring my cries for help…

So what then do we do?

 

Well, here is where the maturity of faith comes in.

A mature faith consists of two phases: resting and wrestling.

But let us not think of this in too simplistic a way, as though after we have wrestled, we can rest, until the next match starts again.  But rather, we should view these two phases as completely bound up with each other.  Intertwined, or even overlapping.

As we wrestle, whether we are wrestling with temptation, or despair, or illness - whatever we are wrestling against, we wrestle, with the knowledge, and in the strength of God Himself.  What made the psalmist’s experience worse for a time, is also the reason that he had hope.

He was preaching to his own soul - God is good, God is in control, so why am I struggling?  Why am I suffering?  This is what we read in Psalm 88.

But we know that the wrestling match continued past the end of verse 18.

The psalmist continued to preach - God is good, God is in control, I’m suffering now…this means that, no matter how I feel, IT ISN’T OVER YET.  Soul - as you struggle, REST IN GOD.  As you mourn, as you despair, inwardly you know, inwardly there is the knowledge that God is one in whom we can rest.

And as you mourn, as you despair, you know that the wrestling you are doing, it is only made possible in the strength that God gives.  If He would not give you this strength, if He was not upholding you by His mighty right hand, you would crumble to the ground.

You would fall and you wouldn’t get up.  But the fact that the psalmist continued fighting, continued wrestling, continued pouring his heart out to God means that, in some sense, even if he couldn’t actively feel it, he was resting, even as he wrestled.

And when we wrestle, we know that somehow, in some small way or in some great way, we will be drawn closer to God.  We will be strengthened.  We will be purified.  It is the mature Christian who can say or even SING, not despite suffering, but indeed, all the more in the deepest times of suffering, when darkness is our closest friend, “nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee, e’en though it be a cross, that raiseth me.”

Even if the pathway to Christ is painful, even if it not only meanders through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, even if it seems to set up camp in Sheol…I will still trust in the God of providence.  I will still trust that the God who made me, who hand-fashioned me out of dirt and breathed into my nostrils the breath of life, the God who suffered and died to save me…WILL PROVIDE FOR ME - EVEN NOW.

The slow unbroken wail of Psalm 88 that begins with a spark of hope, only to be systematically extinguished by the end, leaving the psalmist in pitch blackness…WILL ONE DAY BE MET with the triumphant cry of Psalm 89 - I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD forever.

If it’s over and you aren’t singing of the goodness of the Lord…I have news for you - IT’S NOT OVER.  If it’s over and God hasn’t triumphed, IT ISN’T OVER.

For when we have a Heavenly Father who is perfectly loving and perfectly powerful…there is only one possible ending: ALL WILL BE WELL.  Our final point.

“All will be well.”  What a wonderful pipe dream.  It is no wonder that there are those who dismiss Christianity as mere wish-fulfillment.  “All will be well” - this is what every human being wants to hear, and so, maybe, long ago, someone invented a religion to give us what we yearn for.

That’s one option.

But here’s another.  Let’s try it on for size.

“All will be well” - this is the deepest desire of our heart.  For all to be well - in the world, in our families, in ourselves.  We long to be at peace.  We long for there to be no more fighting or strife.  What is natural is not suffering, but the resolution of suffering.  Comfort.

But where does that desire actually come from?  Is it an evolutionary trait?  The result of millions of years of evolution?  That in PEACE the human race could flourish?  Well…not so much…evolution is the survival of the fittest.  Therefore, for human beings to be at their peak, to realize their potential, our deepest desire should be that of CONFLICT.  For the weak to all die out and the strongest rise to the top of the heap.

But our desire is for that of peace.

What if our desire for peace, our desire for justice and righteousness, our love for the good, the true, and the beautiful…actually speaks of the way we were created, and the Creator Himself?

What if our implanted desire for MORE, the fact that our hearts YEARN for something that earth cannot supply means that Heaven is our Home, and God is our Father?

All will be well - not on earth, not completely, not perfectly, for what words called us into worship this afternoon?  In this world you will have tribulation.  The words of our Saviour.  One of His last promises to His disciples.  In this world you will have tribulation.  Tribulation, troubles, trials, sorrow, even SUFFERING.

This is what our Saviour promises for those who follow Him.  He does not promise us an easy life.

But with God as our Father…with God as our Father…

In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Take heart - I have overcome the world!

With God as our Father, with Jesus Christ as our Saviour, we are not caught in the trouble, the tribulation, the suffering.  But instead, we, as co-heirs with Christ can say that WE TOO have overcome the world.

Because of WHO WE ARE IN HIM, we can take the step from a Psalm 88 way of living, from living in the dark, from sorrow and suffering, and walk into the bright sunshine of Psalm 89 - I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD forever!

____________________________

Now, something that you may not know about me is that I love to fly.  Even with all the stress of airport security and cramped seating…I love to fly, especially when I’m in a window seat.

I USED TO love to fly because of the feeling of taking off.  Seeing the world grow smaller and smaller below me, feeling like I was leaving behind all the worries and cares of this earth - even for a few hours.  And I liked to fly in the sunshine, on a clear day, because you could see everything below you.

But my love of flying has changed - and I think - changed for the better.

Because it’s not about ESCAPING THIS EARTH, it’s not about becoming NUMB TO or FORGETTING ABOUT the troubles, the cares and concerns of this life.  Not at all.  It’s about realizing something about them.  It’s about realizing that they are not EVERYTHING.

And to me, that is what flying has become.  I still love flying when I can look out the window…but now…I prefer flying in the rain and the clouds.  Because there is a moment, that wonderful, glorious moment when the plane, which has been climbing up, higher and higher, closer and closer to those dark clouds…finally breaks through and you see that…on top of the clouds…the sun is shining.  However dark, however rainy and cold and wet it is down below…the SUN IS SHINING.  The sun is always shining, whether it breaks through the clouds or not.

And so, we will have days, we will have seasons of our life when we can take the words of Psalm 88 on our lips.  And God has given us that opportunity.  He has given us that gift.  The gift of lament.  But the purpose of a psalm 88 season is for us to get to Psalm 89.  The purpose of tribulation in this world is to get us to that state of being an overcomer in the power of God.

And how?  How is this OURS?

These tiny insignificant specks in the Universe?  Overcomers, victors, conquerors…how can we have this personal relationship, this unity with and identity from God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth?

The eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who, out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them

And who still upholds and governs them by His eternal counsel and providence,

Is - FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST HIS SON, my God and my Father.

Why are we loved?  Why are we protected?  Why are we provided for?

This is a question that might stump us… “Why does God love you?” but it’s actually so simple.

We are loved…because Jesus says so.

FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST HIS SON, THE FATHER is MY FATHER.

And how did Jesus say this?  When did He say this?

This declaration came, not through a TEACHING of our Great Teacher, but by the sacrifice of our Great High Priest.

For the sake of Christ His Son.

You see, it’s not quite right for us to say that BECAUSE OF JESUS CHRIST, WE HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

There’s truth to it, but it’s not the complete picture.

You see…it is by virtue of CREATION, not REDEMPTION that we have a relationship with God.

The eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them.

That includes every single person who has ever lived and will ever live.

In CREATION, God has a relationship with us.  It is that CREATOR-CREATURE relationship.  He is powerful, we are dependent on Him, whether we acknowledge it or not.

And then, in the FALL, God has a relationship with us.  It is that of a JUDGE-CRIMINAL relationship.  He is just, we are sinful, whether we acknowledge it or not.

But it is in REDEMPTION, because of the cross of Jesus Christ, because of His sacrifice, once for all, there was that restored relationship.  A renewed relationship.  Even a RAISED relationship.  Adopted as sons. Salvation is an adoption story - You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

We are children of God, welcomed into His divine family as co-heirs with Christ, destined to live in a land where the SUN not only SHINES, but the SON REIGNS.  Co-heirs with Christ, co-rulers of the universe.  This is our future.

And so, as we live this life, going through difficulty and sorrow and suffering, going through those rainy and dark days, know that, even now there is a land where there is no more night.  A land where this is no more sadness.  Or tears, or crying or pain.  This land is our home, and we are flying, in that airplane, closer and closer to the moment we break through the clouds and bask in that eternal light.

This can soften our sorrows and cause us to proclaim: “It is well with my soul.  It is well, it is well with my soul.”

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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