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Friday, June 19, 2015

Laughing Through the Barrel Rolls

     “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 
     “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
-Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV)


Raphael Langunmier is a Canadian pilot who has flown over 60 aircraft since 1991. It’s safe to say he’s comfortable in airplanes. His daughter, Lea, is now 4, and has been flying with her dad since she was 2. So when Raphael took her up with him last week, she may expected more of the same. She certainly didn’t get it, though.
     This time, Raphael did some real flying. Aerobatics.
     If you feel like laughing, take a look at the video Raphael shot (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSWDW18ygaw) from a camera mounted on the control panel of his plane, pointed back at Lea. Lea, in her pink headset, starts the flight just sort of looking at the scenery going by. But then her dad starts doing some tricks: barrel rolls, steep climbs, flips. And Lea’s response is, maybe, not what you’d expect from a 4-year-old. Or maybe it’s just what you’d expect.
     In short, Lea laughs like a little maniac through every maneuver. She shrieks with joy, giggles, and even gives a thumbs-up at one point. And, through it all, she keeps yelling something in French. I couldn’t quite make it out, but it seems as though it would be the equivalent of “Do it again!” It’s pretty cute stuff, especially for Father’s Day.
     I think, though, that a lot of kids even older than 4 would be pretty scared by maneuvers like that. I know most adults would be. Though she’d flown before, these apparently weren’t maneuvers Lea had done. Surprising, then, that she’d go through them without a trace of fear, laughing and screaming for more with every twist, turn, and roll. Maybe she’s just a naturally brave kid. I have to wonder, though, if there isn’t something else that accounts for her lack of fear. 
     Do a quick search in your Bible app, or just page through the Gospels in your old-school paper Bible, and you’ll find that easily Jesus’ favorite way to refer to God is by the title “Father.” (He calls God “Father” at least 185 times in the Gospels, most of them in John and Matthew.) That’s so well-known that we don’t even think about it, or if we do we just think, “Well, of course Jesus would call God ‘Father’.” That’s true enough, but it doesn’t explain why he also encourages those who follow him to call God by the same name. God isn’t just Jesus’ Father; Jesus insists that he’s our Father too. 
     Think about it: all the prophets before Jesus called God by the name with which he initially revealed himself to Moses, Yahweh. (We don’t even know how to pronounce that name!) Or they called him The Holy One. Or they called him The Most High. Or The Lord of Hosts. (The Lord Who Has the Armies) They knew God by his titles, or by the name with which he made his covenant with the nation of Israel. The idea that God was the nation’s metaphorical “Father” was pretty well-known, and the prophet Hosea actually even got a little sentimental about that. But it wasn’t very often, if at all, that the Old Testament prophets encouraged anyone to think of God as they would a generous, loving father. 
     That may be the single most striking thing about Jesus’ teaching: that the God of creation, the God who had brought Israel out of Egypt, the God whose glory appeared in the Temple and thundered from heaven, who fought for his people, and sometimes against them too, with terrible signs and fearful power — that ordinary people could look to this God and cry out, “Father!”  
     And that what they would find when they did would not be an absentee Father, or a self-centered Father, or an angry Father. They would find, instead, a Father like their own fathers, though even better. They would find a Father who loves, like any good father does, to give good things to his children. But who really does know what’s good, and always has it in his power and in his heart to give to them.
     I don’t know how you usually think of God. Sometimes our culture thinks of him in over-familiar terms, I’m afraid: “the Big Guy,” “the Man Upstairs.” Sometimes the church, or segments of it, seems to think him too strict. We focus on his power, on his anger, on his judgment, and forget about his love, grace, forgiveness, and compassion. I guess it’s never possible for finite human beings to really grasp and understand an infinite God. 
     So maybe that’s why Jesus says, “Just call him Father. That’s what I do.”
     Because a child doesn’t need to understand her father. She doesn’t need to have all her questions about him answered, or grasp what all of his plans are. She doesn’t need to know about life insurance or college funds, or what he’s going through at work, or all the details of his relationship to her mom. She doesn’t need to calculate how much it costs to keep the house and keep it powered and heated. 
     She just needs to know that her dad is there, and that he loves her, and that he understands all the stuff she doesn’t. Then she can just call him Dad, and laugh when he makes the plane spin. And however steep the climb, or stomach-churning the barrel roll, or harrowing the dive, she will relax, and giggle, and shout, “Again, Dad!”
     Because of Jesus, we can call God “Father” too. Sometimes we forget the implications. Not all of us have had good fathers, but all of us know what they’re supposed to be like. The love of a father takes a very specific form:  whatever you need, they’ll move heaven and earth to get it for you. Good Fathers provide, and they do it so consistently that you can sometimes even take it for granted. And, while we don’t want to take God’s generosity for granted, it seems that he’s more willing for us to make that mistake than he is for us to possibly think that he doesn’t care for us. 
     If you know how to give good things for your children, and if your father knew how to give good things to you — then you can know without a shadow of a doubt that your Father in heaven is delighted to give you whatever you need. So ask. Seek. Knock. And laugh and clap your hands through the dips, rolls, and flips of life, knowing that your heavenly Father is in control.

     And thanks, Dad, for being the first to show me what to expect from a God I can call Father.

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