My Dad has taught me many things. Top of the list is that Dad jokes are real, and they’re painful. He is a sucker for puns, loves turns of phrases, and never passes up an opportunity to tell a “joke”. (I put that in quotes because we’re stretching the definition there).
When my next oldest brother and I were younger and would play sports or chess or something that wasn’t necessarily up his wheelhouse, he had the same line locked and loaded when conversing with another parent. He would say, “Yup, I taught them all I know”. Of course, the subtlety of the humor was not that he taught us what we knew but rather what he knew – which, in those fields, wasn’t all that much. It’s one of the reasons why Sydney and I have taken to calling him “shameless”, because he doesn’t seem to care all that much what others think of him – and the puns are proof of that.
There are many things my brothers and I were interested in that was out of Dad’s area of expertise, but the greatest thing I ever learned from my father was indeed something about which I knew nothing and he taught me all that he knew. Of course, should he take time to read this, he’ll probably be a little caught off guard, because it wasn’t something he necessarily sat down to explain, but it was a lifestyle that I pray daily to emulate.
But to tell you what it is, I’ll explain it backward by sharing one of my biggest struggles as a pastor and a Christian.
It is this: that I turn a study and reading of God’s Word into a mere intellectual exercise. Now, it’s of course necessary to engage the intellect (precisely why God gave us a book…), but in John 5:39-40 Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life”. That verse shows it’s possible to study the Bible and miss the entire point of it: Jesus. The Scriptures involve hard work, memorization, study, and the like, but the end product, as Psalm 1 tells us, is to make us happy in the Lord. That does not mean happy apart from Him, but it means becoming enamored with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. How is this possible? – Jesus warned us, no one can come to the Father except through him (John 14:6), because, as Paul says, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
That means that as we sit and reflect on what Jesus has done for us, it should produce such an overwhelming disgust of our sins and an unquenchable desire for Him that we call out with the Psalmist, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). Without Jesus, God is nothing more to us than an enemy. Yet through him, God becomes our Father, slow to anger, abounding in love, tender and merciful.
It’s why Paul says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Or, as the hymn writer put it, “Jesus the very thought of thee with sweetness fills my breast; but sweeter far thy face to see and in thy presence rest”. Even John Newton so tenderly wrote, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear! It soothes his sorrow, heals his wounds, and drives away his fear… It makes the wounded spirit whole and calms the troubled breast; ‘tis manna to the hungry soul, and to the weary rest”.
With deep longing I ache to make those words my own. Don’t you? Yet, my tendency in approaching the Bible is to look at it like a logic puzzle to unlock. It’s so easy for me to miss the forest for the trees because I’m more concerned with finding out what is being said and how it connects to others than who the Bible is bringing us to see. With shame I wrestle at times with bringing sermons back to Christ because I think people will find it repetitive and perhaps even lazy. As such, I willingly buy the lie that facts hold more worth than Jesus, because I personally would rather pursue something I don’t know than to sit and meditate on my Savior. We’ve all heard the same gospel message, so isn’t it time to move onto something more instead of tread familiar ground?
To sum that up, my struggle is that I become far more interested with the theology about God than I care about God Himself. It’s fun to research and learn things I’ve never known, but to sit, meditate, and pray becomes burdensome and time-consuming. It’s easy to skip passages I feel like I know, brushing off the idea that God is still actively speaking in His Word. In writing sermons, I also struggle to sit and chew on what God is saying in a passage before I start making notes on what I want to say about that passage. Sitting and reflecting on every blessing found in Jesus becomes far less interesting than learning something new.
So how does my Dad factor into all of this? Well, recently I preached from the book of Ruth, and as I was speaking of Boaz’s kindness in redeeming the titular character, I channeled my father and almost made the joke, “Because of Boaz’s love, he was not Ruth-less”.
No, I’m kidding. Dad may have taught me horrible jokes like those, but several years ago he was pastoring a Church in Calgary. You may know where this story is headed, or you may not. Either way, to synthesize it all, my Dad was what I could no less describe as attacked for his preaching. Some said it was too grace-focused, some said it didn’t consider the entire “Counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). From my perspective, it all came down to what I would – fairly or unfairly – call “too much Jesus”. More law was desired, more theology, more of other stuff that I’ve long since forgotten, and less of turning to talk of the grace of Christ and how it walks us through each day. (“Yeah, he saved me, but now it’s time to start moving forward instead of constantly looking back”).
Now, the point is not to straw-man and characterize anyone who disagreed with “my side”, but rather to say that as someone who tends toward thinking that bringing everything back to Jesus starts to get in the way of forward progress, I watched as my Dad never apologized for his love of his Savior. Each week he stood up and preached on the relentless grace of Christ and how that changes every corner of our being. By example, he showed me that when Jesus is not my center and my motivation, when he becomes an “add-on” or a “we’ll-come-back-to-him-and-instead-focus-on-other-things”, I’ve missed the entire point.
The more I understand the Word of God, the more I realize the wonder of Luke 24, wherein Jesus proclaims that everything in Scripture is about him. Everything we read should not be substituted with Christ, but it should drive us to him to meditate on him, hold fast to him, and rest continually in his presence. That’s what my Dad taught me, that there is no Bible without Jesus, and there is no living if it’s not for Christ.
My Dad is no saint, but I watched his reputation take a dramatic beating, watched as he went through incredible pain, and watched as he never felt the need to apologize for refusing to move on from his Savior. Instead, he leaned deeper into Him. I have never seen Dad fall into the trap so easily laid out for me: to think that Jesus is the starting point of my salvation instead of the beginning, middle, and end. Verse upon verse could go to talk of the wonder of knowing Christ, but he is not an aspect of our salvation nor a launching off point; he is the alpha and omega, the everything, our all-in-all. It is through the lens of Christ, his grace, and his love that we understand how we are saved, how we walk according to the law, how we approach the throne of the Father, how we evangelize, and even how we eat and think and act. He is not just the author of our faith but the perfecter and finisher (Hebrews 12:2).
The greatest thing I learned from my father is that the second I grow wary of putting Jesus as the number one in anything and everything I do is the second I’ve made myself God. I call my Dad “shameless” because he is rarely uncomfortable, mostly unassuming, and always leaning a little too hard on others’ good graces in the joke-department. I admire him for that. But more than all, I call him “shameless” because I watched him survive on a shameless love for Jesus. Watching him lean on Christ in desperate times has taught me that there is nothing in this world that matters more than spending time with our Lord, even when the temptation is to think he’s the starting point instead of the point of starting.
My name is Bryan Lanting. I am a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, and I am presently serving Mt View CRC as their pastor. I am married to a wonderful wife named Sydney, and both of us are loving life, loving Lynden, and loving the Lord!