My Dad turns 80 on Easter Sunday. I reckon that is pretty cool. It has caused me to reflect on some of the things for which I am grateful about my Dad (and my Mum) who is now more frail as Parkinsons accompanies him through these later years. I'd like to pay tribute to him, if I may...
1. My Dad showed me what living for Jesus looks like
My own testimony doesn't contain a lightning strike, just a gradual dawning. I don't have a clear sense of moving from darkness to light. In fact I spent many years wondering if I had a testimony at all. Living for Jesus was the air we breathed. It was the water in which we little fish learned to swim. I knew nothing else. But as I've got older I've realised that the grace which trickles down through the generations is just as amazing as the grace which arrests people on their own Damascus Rd.
2. My Dad extended to me the privilege of growing up in India
I am a missionary kid. I grew up as a guest in someone else's country. I love all that this has brought into my life, not the least being the reality that 'the one who has lived in many villages is unlikely to remain a prisoner to his own village' (Newbigin). John Stott rightly affirms that all Christians should be 'committed internationalists'. This comes so naturally to me because Dad took me to India.
3. My Dad demonstrated to me how calling comes before gifting
God does not so much call us to what we are gifted for - he calls us first and then gifts us in a way which enables an obedience to that call. If Dad had allowed his gifts to determine his calling - he might have remained a concert pianist or become a rugby legend or a cardio-thoracic surgeon or a mission executive or a college principal... The story of his life is a story of dramatic turns away from that for which he had proven an outstanding gifting. To the human eye it has been a wasted life. Professional suicides and vocational harekares one after the other... But there is no waste in the divine economy. That economy - within that sovereignty - works best when it works with open-hearted anywhere-goes obedience. He may have counted the cost of obedience, but he quickly forgot the numbers. I admire my Dad so much for these decisions and I consider that admiration to be the decisive human factor in my lingering desire to follow Jesus all the days of my life.
4. My Dad showed me how to lead with a servant-heart and without ambition
I know that JO Sanders wrote about 'God-sanctioned ambition' but I didn't see this in Dad. He seemed to have no grand plans regarding himself, happy as he is to be led by God here and there. He seems to have little ambition beyond the 'trust and obey, for there is no other way' life. And he loved to serve and to help. One of the stand-out features of his missionary career in post-colonial India was the quality of his friendship with national leaders. I like to think I get a little reluctance in leadership, a preference for leading from behind, and a discomfort with the limelight from my Dad. While these features do not fit everyone's model of leadership I am at peace with them basically because they mean I might be like my Dad.
5. My Dad taught me to invest in surrogate parenting
He has a remarkable capacity to hold in his heart the children of friends and colleagues. His parental heart enlarges to incorporate so many of them - particularly those who are not following Jesus. He is "Uncle Ray" to so very many people. When staying in peoples' homes he took time to engage a spouse in conversation and then walk away with the names of the children in his prayers.
But there is more to it than this... With boarding school and other separations from Dad being a part of my story, my life is all the richer for numerous surrogate dads who stepped into the gap left vacant temporarily by my own Dad. While this was not always easy, I do find in my heart a deep gratitude to these men as well.
6. My Dad showed me how influential character can be
Over the decade of my time as Principal of Carey Baptist College I have preached in Baptist churches all around New Zealand - maybe 80 or more. You are not going to believe this - but it is true. I have yet to visit a church where someone (usually more elderly) doesn't come up alongside me and question me about my pedigree and then shows such delight when they discover I am 'Ray's son' - and sometimes also 'Gwennie's boy'. Admittedly many of the Otago women look a little flushed and might even admit to once having a crush on the handsome university lad ... but far more often it is some little story that is still imprinted on their lives decades later, related to his character and commitment to Jesus ... and that is when I realise that his life has not been wasted.
Being known as the "son of ..." might curdle the emotions of many in my generation - but I love it.
Sure - my Dad will have his failings and shortcomings but that is not the purpose of this post!
May I also say that this post was also sparked by reading a review by Os Guinness (entitled "Fathers and Sons") of this dreadful book by Frank Schaeffer (Crazy for God) where he is so 'cruel' towards his parents, Francis and Edith Schaeffer. It is worth reading.