Figs, Fathers, Feathers, and Fruit

It may occur to you that this has to be either an offering from a “consonance addict” who comes up with the best sounding words first and then shoehorns a meaning into them; or, it’s a “Which One Doesn’t Fit” game (which one?); or it’s a really weird acronym that could fill the reader with all the hope a human being could ever ask for! We shall see…

As we’re accustomed to at The Training Table, this meal has all the ingredients necessary to “run the good race” (Hebrews 12:1): meaty protein, slow-burning carbs, cleansing roughage, refreshing spring water, carefully chosen spices to keep us awake and aware, and a community of fellow marathoners. Yum!!

The Full Meal Deal… In Every Season: Celebrate The Reason!
Even though this meal warrants many courses to flesh out all of the marvelous truths therein, please (ten-fold) take some time to fully digest how redeeming, real, relational, and revitalizing the God of the Bible is. He is like no other god. Perhaps THIS season of Advent might be the advent of a whole new season of faith for you… and for those whom your life might influence. Your “perhaps” may be today.

Speaking as someone like myself—who is nearing the eighth anniversary of my dad’s suicide on Christmas night—“presuming upon a perhaps” can be a very, very dire mistake. Allow me to lovingly remind you, we have no guarantees for tomorrow. There’s no day like the present… to enter into God’s eternal now… and see and celebrate the amazing and unique story He has planned for each one of us!

Figs: The Covering for the Most Corrosive Condition
“In the beginning…” God the Father was completely satisfied with the work He had initiated, and the community of the Trinity had completed (Genesis 1-2). But, the gullibility of Eve and the (more irresponsible) silence of Adam (Genesis 3) resulted in the shattering of a relationship with God which infected ALL relationships since that “seminal” time. The very first sign, symbol, and “snag” (the first thing he grabbed for) in Adam’s relinquishment of his leadership was a fig leaf covering his manhood—as he hid from God in the garden, and hardened every day thereafter.

Ever since this time every human being who has ever been born has donned this common covering… to hide the core of sin and the consequence of shame. Shame. Most of us have such a deep familiarity with the word, the memories, the emotions, that it has bred a certain contempt, has it not?

Now, by means of my original parents’ in the garden cover-up, and my biological parents doing the best they knew how from their own parents and other influences, I was brought up in a shamed-based home. The details are available and alarming, but for me the most fundamental feeling associated with this malady is not simply an all-too-common, true and/or false guilt… for having been a fun, highly fallible, and often freaked-out child… but the clear sense of indelible guilt.

Indelible guilt. Does that concept mean much to you? Right off the top, what comes to mind when you consider “indelible guilt”? I can remember like it was yesterday specific instances of a shooting pain upon hearing… again… “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” Like any child who is instinctively trusting and unwittingly compliant, I completely consigned myself to this “ought” in my life—until shame became a “Precious”(Sméagol-Gollum, Lord of the Rings) deep rooted within my heart: An idol construct from the very pit of hell… spread abroad in the realms of heaven… spoiling all seen and unseen reality. That’s a deep, deep problem… So the solution must be pretty grand as well.

Recall, if you will, a famous line dealing with the very same challenge of indelible guilt: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One, two… Why, then, ’tis time to do it well. Oh, hell is murky! There’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh!, Oh!, Oh!” (Lady Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1—and EveryMan’s wont to scrub-up the indelible guilt by his or her own meritable elbow grease).

The shame Adam and Eve felt as they attempted to hide from, and harden to, the very person Who breathed and shaped them into existence—and knew well what Adam’s manhood consisted of—is the very same strain of sin and shame found in the spiritual DNA of all of humanity. No form of “redemptive government, commerce, humanistic helps, social programs, education, space travel, science, technology, family structure, hospital, health, religion (RE: man’s attempts to define and reach out to God)…” you name it in the realms of earthly fixes… has ever, could ever, reverse the curse of the fig leaf… or indelible shame… the inherited sin and acts of sinfulness of all mankind. The doctrine of thoroughgoing (See: “Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and the Punishment thereof”) sin is alive and well—yes, even though the daily news, any subject matter behavioral experts, and very few churches will bring it up.

“Fig leaf shame” (grasping for a covering for sin) is the most corrosive condition a human heart can experience: It alienates Mankind from God and Mankind from one another as well. As you might sense, it actually reverses (turns 180 degrees) the principle and relationship(s) that the entirety of the Bible is based upon: “Love God with your whole heart… Love neighbor as self…” (Deuteronomy 6; Matthew 22:36-40). The flip-flop? “Hide from, harden to, and hate God with all your heart, and mistrust and mistreat your neighbor… as yourself.”

Fast-forward through every image of earthly carnage one could find: The foliage of fig leaves is the fashion of The Fall!

From the deafening din of shameful music lyrics, to the deafening silence of ManyMan’s inability to speak into the chaos; from the sexual promiscuity of an insecure teen, to the eradication of shame in the sexual revolution; from a culture of crowded isolation, to the virtual world of transfixed, misplaced transparency; from the deepest, darkest fear of emotional intimacy, to the explosion of pornography–or “having sex without the vulnerability”; from arms that dare not hug, to an unimpeded arms race; from more self-help than ever, to more self-destruction by far; from Oprah-as-god, to God as supplier of “My Favorite Things”… the list goes on ad infinitum.

Now, if anyone were to think, “Geez, what a bummer this guy is! What a wet blanket on my hope for the human race via a self-esteem regimen! What an unproductive and depressing slam for the human potential movement!”

Please Consider This: ANY point of view short of the Bible’s “thesis” of God’s perfect creation, Original and Personal Sin… Shame… AND the plan God has in place for reversing the curse, (below) must, logically-speaking, have a far, far lower and manifestly darker theory of mankind than does the Bible. After all, what signs of success in “evolving” or “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps” or “disappearing age lines”… can we point to that offer some real hope for mankind? A truly meaningful to the human heart, a lasting, eternal HOPE of any kind must begin by being REAL.

As we will see below, there is only one God… one Redeemer… One Father…Who has a plan in place: But, like our progenitors in the garden, God loves us too much to take away our free will to choose well… or to choose poorly. God’s mercy lasts forever; and both heaven and hell are under God’s manifold mercies! Please don’t try and take indefinite advantage of God’s mercy: When we’re called to stand face-to-face with God, under the heart-piercing gaze of an intimately loving Father, a fig leaf will indeed shatter all the style rules!

And if you are, by repentance and faith, already under the provision of Father God’splan of salvation, please use this sustenance to run the good race—as did Pheidippides in the first marathon: as a messenger of the good news!

Fathers: The Primacy of the Father’s Person and Plan
Since the last three servings of this meal serve to interrelate and reinforce one another, let’s pick up the pace—while avoiding skimming the surface! Please consider using the content and Bible passages to deepen and divulge your faith and praise to others.

Even though the Trinity is made up of three persons with equally vital relationships and roles within the Godhead, I want to make a special appeal to the God the Father Who we tend to know little of, often-times revere little, and imagine far littler than the awesome Father and First Cause and Crescendo Who He really is.

Please understand, the reason I’m so ardent about touching on some of the Father God’s attributes is to help anyone I can with not only the trust in the antidote for total depravity of sin and the indefatigable figginess of shame we’ve reviewed above, but to drill down into how our own fathers, how being a father, the importance of “father”… anything fatherly…is to living a radically fulfilling life!

God the Father’s attributes are stunning: God the Father is… solitary (Exodus 15:11), all-knowing (Daniel 2:22; Psalm 139), all-present (Jeremiah 23:23-24), all-powerful (Luke 1:37; Ephesians 3:20), supreme (2 Chronicles 20:6; Psalm 2:9), sovereign (Isaiah 46:10; Psalm 135:6), immutable (Psalm 119:89; Hebrews 6:17), holy (1 John 1:5; Revelation 15:4), utterly faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9; Lamentations 3:22-23), perfectly good (Genesis 1:31; Luke 2:14), patient (Psalm 86:15; Acts 14:16-17), grace-full (Ephesians 2:8-10; 2 Timothy 1:9), merciful (Psalm 136:1; Acts 17:25), loving (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 1 John 4:8), truth-full (Romans 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22-23), wrathful (Deuteronomy 32:39-41; Romans 1:18-32), causes contemplation (Job 11:7-9; Habakkuk 3:17-18), and real (John 1:3-10; Romans 1:20-21; Hebrews 11:1, 13). And dozens more for each attribute…

Now, if we could go into the necessary details of God the Father’s attributes—which we regularly should—we would be NOT only awestruck by the unfathomable breadth and depth of God the Father, but we would be much more aware of our utter puniness and complete unworthiness, by comparison. We would not, for one millisecond, think we could stroll into God the Father’s presence with a Starbuck’s-coffee-casualness or “it’s-all-about-grace” presumption that God owes me anything… but incineration. Approaching the throne of Godeven and especially under graceshould fill us with reverence and the deepest respect.

I wonder if we can feel, in the very center of our hearts, what it cost God the Father to close the gap between His unassailable attributes AND our total depravity.

God the Father, as the uninitiated initiator of His redemptive plan, was absolutely heartsick when He heard Adam from afar, hiding in the noonday sun, as ashamed and fearful as one could ever be. And God the Father, within a few sentences of each other, condemned and saved Adam and all who would believe in Him—by means of the atoning sacrifice of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:15; Hebrews 9).

Let’s get down to the basics: God the Father loves you and me so much (John 3:16) that He had a plan in place since before time (don’t dwell in the mystery, apply the promise) to not only remove the fig leaf and ALL the consequences in every realm of our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual beings, but adopt us as His very own children!

Once we are in Christ, we are not only a whole new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17—wrap your heart around that promise), but we have all the freedoms to BE TRANSPARENT AND UNASHAMED ABOUT, a) any/all tears we had shed as children of troubled homes (all are to varying degrees; b) any/all idols we have carefully enthroned in our heart; c) any/all secrets that are fueled by our now-defunct, and harmful self-concepts; d) any/all struggles to break the inherited silence of Adam, or the perceived inadequacies of Eve; and e) any/all barriers or boundaries of the world, the flesh, or the devil on our purpose and passion to change the world! Father wounds can be replaced by Father Wonder… in Christ and over time. (NOTE: “any/all” does not infer we can reach perfection before The Return of The King.)

Please Consider This: In regards to a father’s role, the realms of forgiveness, and reconciliation (to touch on a reference to my own shame-based family above), the lion’s share of shaming was poured out by my mom—for the reasons outlined in my book, The Weeping, the Window, the Way. BUT, the shame and silence of my dad, his (understandable) inability to come to my defense, his role to thrust the shield of faith between me and the onslaught of deadly arrows (inadvertently) aimed at my heart, was a very, very important reality for me to see… and to fully forgive… and to set a new course for my story… for being a son of the God, a son of my father and mother, a husband, a father myself, a brother, a friend… a person.

I was born-again (John 3:7) when I was 31 years old, but it has taken me a great deal of time, redemptive pain, and unspeakable joy to get so many things worked out… about how God the Father, purely out of His glory and by no indebtedness to anyone, loves me, loves us, so much that He knows each hair upon our head, each thought upon our heart, each breath… just as He knows each downy feather that falls from a bird, or the quake from a single blade of grass!

Feathers: The Intimacy of the Infinite
To further instill in us how much God the Father (Son and Holy Spirit) loves each of us, the Bible (God’s Owner Manual for Mankind) includes a variety of passages I would like to offer… your heart… as a feast… for running the good race. St. Augustine said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

“God will cover you with his feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4).

“The LORD your God in the midst of you is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest in his love, He will joy over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

“(Jesus said) Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life(Matthew 6:25-27).

With so much anxiety for yesterday, and so much worry for tomorrow, we hardly have any room for joy, for fully living life in “TODAY…” (Psalm 95:7-8). In Christ, our Father in Heaven knows us just as we are, and loves us just the same: Nothing on earth can supersede this promise… unless we give our consent to do so—which happens in our weaker moments as we’re thrown back to the version of our selves (the old man) before God intervened.

In reality, the fig leaf before God’s presence has been removed, and therefore we a truly free before men. Shame and grace are incompatible. But this does happen in real life, on any given day, in an instant. We have to practice our faith, “work out our salvation” (Philippians 2). Let us now be fruitful…in Shalom peace, serving joy, and an open-handed urgency… that won’t quit!

Fruit: The Juicy Beauty of Life-Giving Grace
And to finally further instill how “figs, fathers, feathers, and fruitfulness” are ALL part of the same redemptive plan of God… “supremely punctuated” on Christmas day… they ALL fit…

Once we have been saved, then we have been sent. Many in the Western Church—reared in the self-help culture that can easily confuse ends and means: We can easily mistake salvation as an end, and it is, in fact, the means: To partner with God and realize and redeem earth as it will be in heaven (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 5)!

The plan God has in place to equip us to “work with Him to redeem the world” is this: The Life by the Spirit in Fruitfulness! Please note how this amazing passage reverberates throughout much of the “chow we’ve chewed on above”.

A Fruitful Life by the Spirit
St. Paul wrote, “You my brothers and sisters, were called to be free (no fig leaf or shame, only faith in Christ). But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love (right relationship restored). For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (shame manifest in a power to will).

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (no shame). For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateveryou want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (indelible shame, covered in the cross).

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:13-32—parenthesis added).

As Christians, when we wake each day in gracious obedience to the sacrifice our namesake paid for us. As we seek to use the Core Values (behaviors) of The Fruit of the Spirit in all we do, we will, guaranteed, axiomatically, organically, empowered by the Spirit, and purposefully… change the world… for time… and for eternity!

Now, this is the way to remember this feast served up at The Training Table today, an unforgetable acronym:

“F.F.F.F!”  Either the sound of the wind being taken OUT of your sails… if you believe this to be false… Or the wind FILLING your sails… if you have now, or have earlier, embraced this offering as the True Truth—and seek to live it in word and deed every day.

Written by Father God in His Bible, relayed by me a sinner saved by grace, and reliable for all Mankind.

I will be praying for the “F.F.F.F… FILLING!”

See you next week when we’ll sup on, “The Hymn of a Hungry Heart”.

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