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“Developing a Character Like Christ's”

Part 1:
“Relating to God as Our Heavenly Father”
Based on John 17:20-26
Delivered on February 28 & March 1, 2009
by David J. Claassen

Copyright 2009 by David J. Claassen

                Diann and I spent last week in Mexico visiting our daughter Julie and her family.  On the last night, as Diann and I headed back to our room in the basement of the new main house that’s being built, we looked up at the night sky.  Refuge Ranch, their home, is located on a mountainside at an altitude of about 7,000 feet.  It was a clear night, and at Refuge Ranch light pollution is at a minimum.  At that altitude your view of the stars isn’t obscured by the lowest mile and a half of thick atmosphere like it is at sea level.  Not only could we see thousands of bright stars, we saw the individual faint dots of millions of stars and galaxies: millions of pixels of light giving a high-definition view of a great, grand universe of unimaginable magnitude.
            It makes you think of the exclamation of the psalmist King David, who must have often sat under the night sky as a youth watching his father's sheep.  “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)  When you consider the vastness of the cosmos, our individual existence certainly seems tiny and inconsequential.  That’s the impression I got when I looked up at the night sky.  It was also the impression I got the next evening as I looked down upon the earth.
        We were flying home; the plane was seven miles up.  There were many man-made dots of light below, and some of the lights were clustered in little galaxies of towns.  When I put my thumb on the cabin window it could cover an entire small city.  Thousands of people were beneath my thumb, so many people living their lives — and I didn’t know a single one of them!

            Whether I looked up at the heavenly, divinely-made lights or down at the earthly, humanly-made lights, the feeling was much the same.  What value does one tiny little person have?
            Most of us believe that God has made everything, including us.  However, when you consider the vastness of the universe and the billions of people, it's sometimes hard to imagine that God cares for us and that we're important to Him. 

Jesus' Favorite Name for God
One of the amazing things about Jesus is the way He related to God and what He taught His disciples — and wants to teach us — about how to relate to God.  For instance, when Jesus taught the disciples a model prayer, a way of communicating with God, He said, “This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, . . .'” (Matthew 6:9)  Jesus taught His followers, then and now, to relate to God as our Heavenly Father!
            Jesus taught us that God isn’t some depersonalized abstraction or cosmic force.  Jesus taught us to see a relationship with God as something that can and should be supremely personal.  We should see God, and relate to Him, as our Heavenly Father!
            We need to acknowledge that many people — and you may be one of them — don't have a positive view of fatherhood.  Some people never knew their fathers, and others wish they hadn't!  Some fathers were physically present but emotionally absent.  Some were so distracted with sports or work that they weren't very good fathers.  Some were verbally, physically, or sexually abusive.
            Some of us were blessed with good fathers, but even the best father isn't perfect.  In order to relate to God as our Heavenly Father, we all, to a greater or lesser degree depending on our upbringing, have to imagine what an ideal father would be like.  God is that — and much more!  Jesus saw God as His Heavenly Father, and He wants us to see God that way, too!
            Today we begin a new six-part message series in which we imagine ourselves walking so closely with Jesus that He rubs off on us!  We want to imagine walking so closely with Christ that when His sandals kick up dust, it falls onto our feet!  We should want to walk so closely with Christ that we develop a character like His, becoming more Christ-like.
            We can begin by observing that Jesus always saw Himself as God's Son and saw God as His Heavenly Father.  The whole idea of seeing God as Heavenly Father was something new.  In Jesus' day, people rarely thought of God that way.
            It’s true that there are a few Old Testament references to God as father.  The psalmist declared, for instance, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:13)  Isaiah the prophet declared, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)  Usually in the Old Testament the fatherhood of God was an analogy.  It wasn’t used as a personal way to address God as Father, but Jesus changed all that. 

Heavenly Father: a Metaphor with Meaning
After Jesus' resurrection He made this amazing statement to His disciples: “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17)  We’re supposed to do what Jesus did: see God as our Heavenly Father!
            We shouldn't misunderstand.  Jesus had a unique relationship with God because He was and is the eternal Son of God, and we aren’t.  Jesus had an extended prayer with the Heavenly Father toward the end of His ministry here on Earth.  In that prayer He prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:5)  Jesus pre-existed; in fact, He always has been!  He's the second person of the triune God-head.  Jesus is God's Son in a totally unique way, and God is His father in a totally unique way.  Jesus never suggested that we have the same relationship that He has with the Heavenly Father, but He taught that we can and should have God as our Heavenly Father.  The New Bible Dictionary puts it this way concerning Jesus and His disciples: “His Sonship, though on a level altogether unique, was the basis of their sonship.” (p.477)
            Would you like to know what Jesus envisions for you in terms of a relationship with God?  In His extended prayer with the Heavenly Father that’s recorded in John 17, Jesus not only prayed for Himself and for His disciples who were with Him, but also for us!  Jesus said to the Father concerning His disciples then, “My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,” (John 17:20)  That includes us!  What does He pray for us?
            Let me give you some of the statements Jesus made on our behalf to the Heavenly Father: “. . . Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us . . .” (John 17:21)  Imagine — Jesus' desire is that we participate in some way in the inner fellowship between Jesus and the Father!  We’re invited into the inner sanctum of the fellowship and love that exists within the triune nature of God Himself!
            Jesus went on to pray, “I in them and you in me. . . .” (John 17:23)  What an amazing chain of relationships!  Jesus wants to be in us even as the Father is in Him!
            Jesus also prayed to the Father at that time, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26)  Jesus is the intermediary, taking the love the Father has for Him and sharing it with us so that we also experience the love of the Heavenly Father!
            The heart of Jesus is that we eternally enjoy something of the astonishing relationship that He enjoys with the Heavenly Father.  Like Jesus,  we’re meant to relate to God as our Heavenly Father. 

Choosing to Be His Children
This relationship of having God as our Heavenly Father isn't something we automatically have; we have to choose it.  Because of our sinful nature, we're alienated from God.  That's why Jesus came: to be our Savior, going to the cross for us.  This is the amazing message of Lent, which began last Wednesday.  People don't have to accept Him; it's a choice.
            This is what the apostle John said about Jesus at the beginning of his gospel: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God —” (John 1:10-12)
            God wants to adopt us as His children so that we can be related to Him as our Heavenly Father, but the choice is ours.  If you've never made that conscious choice, now would be a good time.  He wants you to be able to call Him your Heavenly Father! 

Our Identity: Children of the Heavenly Fatherhood
Fidel is one of our grandsons, by adoption.  He was an orphan and a troublemaker in the village where he lived in a very rural area of Mexico.  When our son-in-law Victor tracked him down during a medical mission crusade at that village, he was being held in a jail cell because no one knew what else to do with him.  His father had died, and his mother's new husband didn't want to raise another man's son.  His grandmother, who had taken him in, had washed her hands of him.  “He's as good as dead to me,” she said to Victor and the authorities.
            It was settled; Fidel could go home with Victor, but there was one more hurdle.  Victor asked Fidel whether he wanted to go with him.  It was Fidel's choice.  He said yes, and that answer has changed his life forever.
            Of course it takes time to build a relationship.  Fidel had been without a father and a family for a long time.  One day Fidel choked on some food while the family was eating lunch.  Victor quickly jerked Fidel out of his chair, ran outside with him, and performed the Heimlich maneuver, dislodging the food.  Out of relief Victor hugged Fidel, and Victor cried.  Our daughter Julie said that this was a turning point for Fidel: he had finally experienced the love of a father.
            The picture you're seeing now on the screen is of Grandpa (me) playing Connect Four with Fidel.  He almost always wins, as you can see by the smile on his face.  His life is very different — much more of a life — since he agreed to have a father and a family again.
            God isn’t just the God of the great cosmos, the creator and sustainer of it all.  You and I aren’t lost in the crowd among billions of people.  Jesus has shown us the way to live.  He called God His Heavenly Father, and we’re supposed to follow His example.  Jesus has paved the way because of what He did for us: going to the cross to be our Savior.

            What we think of ourselves has a profound impact on the way we handle day-to-day living.  We’re meant to view ourselves as children of God who are able to relate to Him as our Heavenly Father.  Life can be so different — so much more — when God is our Heavenly Father!

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