Fathers and children

Thursday 14 July

Jasper Rutherford leads Summer Madness and Catalyst - Northern Ireland’s biggest Christian youth and young adults’ festivals. Here VOX Editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings a summary of his message at #Sligo16.

When I first encountered God, I didn’t know anything about Him.  We were sitting in the back of the Ulster Hall because there was going to be food and there were going to be girls. My back was against the wall.  We were not interested.  Then they started to worship and the presence of God just came. I didn’t have a clue.  As a 14 year old, I was trying to weep, without my friends knowing - it was difficult.  If I could sum up my experience of God then it was, “I see you with Father’s eyes.”  They were good tears.  God met me and I could not deny it was real. I craved a presence-driven life, not a purpose-driven relationship with the Father.

My dad died in February this year after being diagnosed with lung cancer. We didn't have a great relationship but just before he died I was able to lead him to the Lord.  I was praying for him for years but he held on to a folklore faith until near the end.

I had a thought that he was going to die the next day at 12noon. At that time, he didn't die but he was very weak. Later, I got some oil and anointed him and we prayed the Lord's prayer. The presence of God came into the room then, so thickly, and my dad, who could still hear us, began to breathe normally. I read Psalm 23 to him and on the last word - "Forever" - he breathed his last breath at exactly 12 midnight. From the first minute to the last, this is our God.  He is real.  His presence is undeniable.

We want God’s promise, His purpose and His power but His presence is the platform on which all of these things are built. In His presence, we recognise God’s promises. In His presence, we receive power from God.  In His presence with re-imagine our purpose. We need connection with God before direction.

As we seek to follow the Father, we can often pursue Him for the promises He gives us rather than His presence.  We can pursue Him for what He can give us rather than in relationships. 

Romans 8: 14 - 17 In difficult times, we stand as children not orphans.  I came to know God as Father.  God doesn’t just love us because He has to. Do you know that?  Do you believe that?  Do you embrace that love?  When you do, everything changes.

The supreme purpose of Jesus was not to die on the cross.  The supreme purpose of Jesus was not to give us eternal life.  The supreme purpose of Jesus was to reveal the Father, to make the Father known.  The obvious sign of that was to die on the cross, demonstrating His love.  

The breakthrough from religion is a move from knowing about God to knowing Him personally in relationship.  Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” 

The only time in all the Gospels that Jesus does not address God as Father is on the cross.  As all the sin of the world was put on Him and the Father had to turn away.  It was the only time the relationship was interrupted and Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

God turned away from His son so we could know Him as Father!  That is incredible.  Whenever we wander away from the Father’s love, we all get religious.  We move from a close Father to a distant God.

A good Father dresses us for the future.  He passes things on. I love the examples in the Bible where the Father’s clothe their children with promise or blessing. 

We think of Joseph and Pharaoh when Pharaoh places a signet ring on Joseph’s finger and puts a robe on him - giving him authority to rule.  He says, “Listen to this man.” 

As Elijah sees Elisha, he takes off his cloak and places his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders.  He is dressing Elisha with promise for who he will be.

Moses calls out Joshua and lays his hands on the younger man to pass on the promises of God.

Throughout the Bible, we see the people of God passing on specific things to their children.  There is a sense of preparing for the future in Ireland.  We need spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers who prophetically say, “I dress you with the clothes of who you will be.”

The reason why there are few younger dynamic female leaders is that father figures have not spotted them and released and blessed them to be the leaders they are called to be.  We don’t need fathers who look at us like we are right now or who remember all our faults and failings. 

We need fathers who see who we could be, even in all our weakness, pain and failure.  In the church across the west but especially in Ireland, we have maintained our traditions, protected our denominations and fathered our traditions with the consequence that we have lost our children.  We thought that they should fit in and respond the way we did.

Are you the champion of the children or are you the guardian of the past?  

Good fathers are never jealous of their children.  We need spiritual fathers who spot children of promise and pass things on.

1 Kings 12: 1 - 14 Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders.  In Ireland, children’s hearts are not turned to their fathers but to their brothers and sisters or to social media!  Young people are in danger of doing the very thing we have accused our leaders of doing - leading without listening.  We think we know best.

To older folks in the room can I say, “I'm sorry that we have not listened to you.  We want your blessing.  We need you.”  Fathers are never jealous of their children but children should never be envious of their fathers.

God wants us to honour one another.  When we do that, God gets glorified.  Whenever the hearts of the fathers are turned to the children and the hearts of the children are turned to the fathers then God gets the glory.