Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Sign of Jonah

At 12:02 pm on March 8th, my life changed forever.

Welcome, my son...
I have so much to show you.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Of Fleeing Bishops and Apprehensive Shepherds

It’s amazing how observant I’ve become of other fathers in the past few months. Occasionally, I’ve looked into the eyes of a passing father and seen his resolve, that intense tenacity that accompanies only the passionate. In that moment, I glimpse the immensity and significance of the task before me mirrored in his glance.

The blessing of fatherhood is perhaps only days away from me and much of the implications are still setting in. I’m so excited about the thousands of little blessings I will experience over the expanse of my child’s life. I often find myself daydreaming about the depth of love that I will instantaneously feel once this little life emerges. But the infant smiles and gentle touches also guarantee the arrival of a weighty assignment, dense with responsibility.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve felt God consistently give me the picture of a shepherd and its parallels to fatherhood. I am given earthly charge over this helpless little life while it walks on this earth. My reach and extent of influence is short; time is precious. Will I lead this little lamb to water? Do I possess the aptitude to navigate the rugged terrain (that I myself am still struggling to map) in order to find nourishment for the life I’ve been entrusted? I can’t help but feel somewhat unqualified.

If you study early church history, you’ll notice a curious trend arises as the church begins to extend and swell in size and influence. Quite often, bishops would lead their congregations until the day they died, providing the flock with endless service, dedication, and spiritual authority throughout their lifetime. When a new bishop was needed to replace one who had deceased, the congregants would seek out the most qualified individual, many times from the local monastery. Here’s where the peculiarity lies. When they would decide upon the man they felt God had appointed, they would go to him, notify him of the position of which he was called, and amazingly…. he would flee. The soon-to-be-bishop would frantically run away to avoid the assignment. Those in charge of notifying him would have to track him down, and in some cases, drag him to the election ceremony. Whether this attempt at escape was the result of a fear of leadership or a desire to remain anonymous in service, I’m not sure, but whatever the reason, it makes for a curious bit of church history.

There have been moments where I’ve felt that same striking emotion of the fleeing bishop, a prick of anxiety in my bones that comes only when I consider the weight of my role. Am I qualified to lead another? Can I, as a father, walk in a way worthy of imitation? Will I be able to recall the location of the life-giving streams of water that my little lamb will need?

One feature of streams that I find especially symbolic is the paradox of their static yet dynamic nature. The location of the stream itself is fixed; you can always rely on its position to remain constant. The water flowing through the stream, however, is always different. The cool refreshing water is available to drink, but you will never consume the same water twice. When a body of water is referred to as “living water” in God’s word, it literally denotes a movement, or flow like that of a river. It can be relied on to be fresh and clean because of its procession.

I think this is especially applicable to our lives. We have to remember that God is our source of life, though his blessings and provision will continually take different shapes. The location of our source, however, will always stay the same. If we expect his grace to take the exact same form today that it did five years ago, then we may find ourselves disappointed with the taste of the water we drink.

So it is with the provision of God. His nature is unchanging, but His way with us continually adjusts to evolve us into holy beings. His provision changes in order to change us. God “provides” a plant to shade Jonah, then “provides” a worm to eat the plant in order to uncover deeper truth. He deals with us in ways unexpected to expose our sin and reveal His heart.

Teach me, Oh God. Help me to fervently take hold of the task you’ve given. Give me a constant awareness of the deeper implications that each seemingly mundane moment holds. Help me to seek and be satisfied with the daily bread you provide to nourish and transform me. Lead me to streams of living water so that I may drink deeply, and teach my little lamb to do the same.