Recently, we were asked to begin to think about what the gospel means to us. I’m on a church staff, so that should be easy, right? Yet, I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure how to answer that in a cohesive thought. I felt like I was in the front row of an A.R. Bernard sermon about to be asked the “easiest” question and my mind goes blank so I crawl under the pew assuming the fetal position sucking my thumb. Okay, so a little dramatic…but really, I know I should always be prepared to give an answer for this hope that I have. I guess where I get tripped up is thinking that it has to be this really deep thought/sermon that explains the origins of everything with slides to go with it.
So I sat on it for a while.
The first thought that came to mind is me sitting in my catechism class probably in 4th or 5th grade. I remember the “Good News” book being in the front of the class. I don’t remember ever getting to open it until then, and I’m not sure I even realized it was a bible…or portions of it. It couldn’t be the same old black bible with gold pages that was sitting in the small makeshift library of the wall unit in the living room. You know, the room only special guests on holidays get to sit in? I mean, you had to be really careful even touching that book…and I remember having to be oh so careful dusting it.
Wow, how my relationship with that “book” has changed since I started my relationship with Jesus. I still have the first bible someone gave me, and now I have probably about 20 of them in all different colors and translations. There’s usually one in a bag, in a bookcase, in my car, at my desk. I can’t remember the first time I actually wrote in one, but I’m sure I flinched a bit when I did. It wasn’t until I accepted Christ into my life that I learned that I could not only start to have a relationship with Him, but with the Word as well. One of the first verses I was told to memorize in my new relationship was John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The Word was God…the WORD was GOD! I guess I could understand why we were all so concerned with bending the pages! But just as my relationship with my Lord and Savior had changed, my relationship with the Word followed suit. It was no longer a relationship I had through someone else. It was a living and breathing and open to me to read, digest, question, meditate on, and run to. It’s a relationship that continues to develop day by day, the more time I spend with it and meditate on it, like any relationship, the more I learn about what He is saying to me, who I am, and what I believe through the humans He chose to communicate His Word through. The Word is a road map meets character builder meets a poetic love letter.
And that’s when it hit me…the gospels ARE like a love letter from Dad.
I’m not sure how long everything in life will come back to losing my Dad, but I’m grateful that in the midst of such a sad season, my Heavenly Dad reveals a little bit more of Himself to me. For the last month, I had taken some time off from work to get our house in order…the house that seems to have stood still in all its “stuff” for the last 18 months since he left this Earth suddenly. The notes, cards and emails I was finding myself running into from my Earthly Dad were similar to some of the “notes” I have read and learned from in the Bible from my Heavenly Dad.
Love Note #1: I love you.
My earthly Dad was really good at making sure I knew he loved me. He started out showing that to me very early in life by remembering every Valentine’s day, every birthday, every Christmas… I have so many cards that he wrote just to me, even in the awkward teenage years, or the years I wasn’t living at home, just to make sure I knew he loved me. And in turn, any time someone compliments me on my ability to “love well,” I know it’s in part because my Dad showed me how.
Our heavenly Dad says in John 3:16 that He loves us so much, He sacrificed His one and only son. In 1 John 4 He says our ability to love others is because He loved us first. In Matthew 10:30 He says He knows every hair on our heads and in Psalm 139 He says He knows all our ways…and He still loves us! I don’t know about you…but I got a lot of ways…and a lot of those ways are let’s just say…hard to love. So He made sure to let me know…yes…I even love THAT way of yours.
Love Note #2: I know sometimes you might do wrong. I still love you.
I knew when my earthly Dad was upset with me. Most times he was upset with me, he really had reason to be. Funny enough, I was the “good kid” in the family, meaning I hardly ever got in trouble. There was never a parent meeting to talk about my grades. When he told me I was too young for red lipstick, I took it off immediately. There was never a late night call to pick me up from jail. But there were some emails I came across that he sent after we had a disagreement. Many of those emails would either end in some sort of “funny” or be followed up by an encouraging email chain he had received. I loved when they had to do with faith.
Our heavenly Dad says in Luke 15 that even when we get off track, He’s going to be there when we return. Even when we think we are unworthy, His Word says He loves us just the same and will celebrate our return to Him. In Jeremiah 31, He says He loves us with an everlasting love, and will build us up again.
Love Note #3: I love you so much, I took your pain for you.
My earthly Dad loved music. He loved finding songs that fit every situation. He loved everything from Motown to Country to Pitbull…yes, Pitbull. His all-time favorite was Ray Charles. I remember after a really hard time in my late teens, we were driving home from somewhere and it’s like he knew I was in the backseat feeling sad about a boy. He put on Ray Charles’ rendition of “If I Could.” If you don’t know it, it’s basically a song about a Dad wising he could take the place of his child during the lonely years. I know a lot of times, even when he was upset with decisions we made that put us in the middle of pain, he wished he could take the pain for us.
As Romans 5 says it, our heavenly Dad demonstrated how He loves us by sacrificing His only son when we were still sinners. And in 1 Corinthians 13 He lets us know He hasn’t kept an account of what we have done, but instead believes the best of us. Even in our wrongdoing, His love never fails or leaves.
Love Note #4: I want you to love yourself the way I love you. And I want you to love others the way you love yourself.
One of the things that always blew me away about my earthly Dad is how he loved others. The crazy thing was that he didn’t really have a Dad himself that showed him that kind of love. And maybe it was because of that that my Dad always had an eye for those who had been forgotten. I heard so many stories of the “love notes” my Dad had sprinkled through out his life after he passed away. The single moms who worked for him and said it was his encouragement and words that helped them to now run large corporations. The family members he would drive hours to pick up so they wouldn’t be alone on Christmas. The young men who others disregarded that came forth and said how my Dad taught them everything they knew about management…he even sent one of them to Vegas when they were 21 years old!
Although our heavenly Dad may never send us to Vegas…He does have a way of seeing those who others don’t, and making them feel loved and valued for who they are. In Psalm 65 He reminds us that He is a father to the fatherless. In Psalm 146 He reminds us that he protects strangers and supports the widows. In James 1, He says that pure and undefiled religion in His sight is to visit the orphan and widow in their distress. He has an eye for those people, just like my Dad did…just like we should.
Lastly, Love Note #5: Though we are separated now, we will be together again.
There was no written last note from my earthly Dad. I can’t even remember the last words he said to me, or if I even told him good night before I went to bed on June 18th 2018. So when he passed away suddenly on June 19th, I definitely learned that whole thing about our lives being but a vapor. I still had his Father’s day card that I forgot to write out 2 days prior sitting on the pile of papers in my room. On June 27th, I wrote him my last love note on Earth in that card and placed it in his coffin. I let him know how much I had learned from his life, and that I’d take care of Mom until she joined him in heaven.
My heavenly Dad loves me so much, that He didn’t let the love letters stop there. On July 19th, 10 days before my Dad’s Celebration of life, I found a letter in my parent’s safety deposit box at the bank. My Dad was the only one who had access to it to that point – my Mom had no idea what we would find in there. In the box, along with banking information, my high school diploma, and a couple of pieces of my Grandma Jo’s jewelry was a letter to my Mom and Dad from my Aunt Ann. A portion of the letter was starred and underlined, and read:
"I talked to Aunt Jo and she told me that Gene was at the age of 1 month “Dedicated to God.” That’s how babies are “Blessed before God.” The church was the Italian Christian Church 215 Travis Ave., Trenton, NJ. The pastor was Rev Guido. They don’t baptize babies, they are blessed with oil.”
I stood in the bank in tears. Of all the things my Dad felt that should be in a safety deposit box in a bank…it felt like another love letter from both my earthly Dad and my Heavenly Dad. A love letter letting me know that they were together in the beginning…and they were together again today.
I started writing this in November of 2019, and am just finishing it up today…I knew it was something I needed to write, but I wasn’t sure why it was taking me so long to put words to paper. Now I know it’s because He was still revealing how wide, and long, and high and deep His love is for me. My prayer for 2020 is that my Heavenly Dad would continue to reveal Himself to me in His love letters…that I would continue to abide in His love and that He would continue to abide in me…until we meet again.