Today in over 70 countries around the world, to include the U.S.A, we celebrate Father’s Day. Fathers are part of the reason we’re here. They are the other side of the biological equation that God created and used to bring us into this world. They are famous for many things like:
- Teaching us to ride a bike
- Throwing us our first football or baseball
- Teaching us to drive
- Scaring away your first boyfriend
- Making some of us sweat as we sought permission to marry his daughter
Fathers are also known for say things like:
- “You alright?
- “Are you sure?”
- “Y’awl better not be playing in that toilet!”
- “It’s going to be okay, you’ll get them next time!”
Not everyone has pleasant memories of their fathers, or looks fondly at their own performance as fathers. And so, I thank God for His grace and that He can make up for our imperfect earthly fathers by being our perfect, loving and forgiving Heavenly Father.
Today is always a quietly emotional day for me. First because as a son, I am so grateful for the example my own father set for me. He’s my mentor, my role model and the wind beneath my wings. As a father, I sometimes struggle as I strive to be the same for my own two sons. As an uncle, thousands of miles away from my nieces and nephews, I struggle to be of some presence in their lives.
And just like an amazing Big Brother, Jesus places one of the more beloved and preached parables in the Bible to teach us about the power of forgiveness that we can experience with true repentance, and the opportunity we then have to welcome others into God’s grace as well. These powerful truths are applicable to all of us in our various roles in life.
Some dads need help connecting with their kids. Some are clueless about this parenting thing and afraid of messing it up. It’s one job you can’t screw up. Or maybe your own kids have grown up and left the nest and now you find yourself surrounded by a new generation of young people and are not sure how to relate or connect. Whichever the case, Jesus’ parables in the new testament contain vital lessons for fathers particularly. One popular story Jesus tells is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. If you’re familiar with this story you can probably relate to the son’s need for mercy after his journey down Stupid Avenue.
The story is found in Luke 15:11-32. In telling this story, the main character would appear to be the younger son who was lost and later returned home. However, the true main character of the story is the father. There’s so much to this dad that I relate to just as there’s a bit of each of his two sons in all of us if we’re honest with ourselves.
The first son did the unthinkable. He lived in comfort and luxury. His father was wealthy and had servants. But yet, he saw his dad as a means to getting what he wanted…pleasure.
What was the unthinkable? Wishing his dad were dead in order to get it. That’s what it meant to ask for your inheritance before your dad actually passed away. You can imagine how loving that relationship was.
The older son saw himself as the “obedient” one. Doing things to gain his dad’s love. It was one of those relationships many of us are probably also familiar with:
- “Dad will ONLY love me if I get all A’s
- “Dad will love me if I win the game.”
- “At least I didn’t screw up like Mikey did.”
In either case, what the dad did in response was mind-blowing!
With the first son…he gave him what he arrogantly asked for and let him go! Think about this for a second: how many of us would actually do this?
You know your kids well. You see the mere immaturity in the request and can script how this would play out even with my own sons. This Father didn’t force him to stay. Let’s just go ahead and call him Mikey. Mikey left home, blew his inheritance and found himself, broke, busted and disgusted.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably watched your kids make poor choices or head towards bad circumstances and you know that letting them go ahead is harder than yelling them into compliance. But this is what this dad did…he let him go and then waited because “faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.”
The father believed his son would eventually come to his senses. So much so, he did things based on his faith. He planned his return party. Do you know how crazy that is? Planning a homecoming for someone who wished you dead?! He was right because Mikey did come to his senses years later and confessed to blowing it.
This is the first takeaway—GOD IS WAITING FOR YOU!
Even before you come to your senses, God has eagerly been awaiting your return and has planned a celebration with heaven’s angels. How do I know that? Because in this story…the father represents God.
Just as the father displayed to Mikey that nothing he’d done before and during the “wonder years” would diminish his love for him. Our heavenly Father’s does the same with us as well.
If you’ve been away or distant or have never established a relationship with Him. He wants you to know he is so excited to reconnect with you and in fact, the party is already planned. All that remains is you, the guest of honor, in attendance…AND, he’ll meet you while you’re still on your way.
And so how do we get to this banquet in our honor? You do what Mikey did which is something the Bible calls repentance. It is simply agreeing with God’s assessment of our errors, our sin, our disobedience…whatever term you prefer…and then turning away from those things and turning to him to ask him for his forgiveness.
The Bible puts it like this in 1 John. 1:9: “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” Not some unrighteousness. Not only the vile things. ALL unrighteousness!!
Meanwhile, the older brother, let’s call him Johnny, was not pleased. He was beyond upset and blew up in anger when he heard the house music and smelled the BBQ grilling outback. You can imagine the conversation. I’ve been working my butt off all these years and this knucklehead son of yours returns home after wishing you dead and living a life of shame and reproach, and you throw him a party?!!
What about me? What about all the good I’ve done? Why do you love him more than me? How many of us can relate to this?
With the older son, dad doesn’t get into a shouting match nor does he call him an ungrateful son. He simply reminds him that he never lacked anything.
If you understand the way inheritances worked in those days, the older son received two-thirds while the younger got a third. So, Johnny got more than Mikey, yet he decided to stay at home and still didn’t feel any closer to dad. He was still trying to “earn” dad’s love.
How many of us dads remain distant because our kids don’t seem to be able to do enough or meet our expectations?
How many of us grew up in a relationship with our fathers in which we were always striving to earn his approval and hear him say, “Son, I’m proud of you.” And still to this day, we’re stuck in that cycle of defeat.
Here’s the second takeaway—GOD WANTS TO CONNECT WITH YOU!
Our heavenly Father longs for a relationship with us and that relationship is based on His unconditional love (grace) through our repentance and faith. He offers that to us freely even though it cost Him His only son. The Christian way of life is the only belief system based purely on grace and not on your being good enough or doing good things. Paul explained it in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”
Maybe you’re like Johnny in how you are relating to God…trying to earn his pleasure or dispel his anger by being good enough or religious enough. This parable teaches us that God simply wants a relationship and your attempts are not necessary.
Something else Johnny did that we shouldn’t miss was to allow his self-righteousness to keep him from celebrating his own brother’s return.
Sometimes we do this. We forget the sweet, sweet sound of Amazing Grace that saved us when we ourselves were lost and blind. We forget how precious grace felt that hour when we first believed. So, instead of rejoicing in God’s grace and extending it to others, we rush into religious activity and try to earn God’s love by our good deeds while withholding his love and grace from others.
We become like the very people Jesus was telling this story to…the religious leaders of his day who went about judging people while living hypocritical lives. As a Christian, are you known more for what you stand for OR what you stand against? If you were in the market place professing your faith, would Christ be writing in the sand and asking those without any sin to cast the first stone or would he ask for the next party with sinners to be held at your house?
No matter how far we are from God. No matter whether we believe God has forgotten about us or how far we’ve drifted from Him. I want you to know it’s never too late to return home. You don’t have to clean up anything.
Remember Mikey didn’t stop by the mall or a Holiday Inn to get cleaned up…he just got up from the pig pen and returned home.
This is the third takeaway—GOD WANTS YOU TO COME AS YOU ARE!
This is a story about an incredible earthly father and his relationship to his two sons. It highlights how we separate ourselves from a relationship with our heavenly father by rebelling and satisfying our selfish desires. Jesus wanted those he shared this parable with to simply realize how much God loved them and wanted to connect with them. More importantly, He wanted them to know they needed to come simply as they were.
This was where I was during my senior year in college. I felt God calling me to Reconnect; but I kept thinking I would only go to church after I’d done some serious scrubbing of the dirt from the pig’s sty. Somehow, I thought that would make me clean enough.
What made me feel that way? Was it the Johnny’s in my community whose judgmental tones I wanted to avoid?
Was it that I felt too far away and unforgivable? That I felt I was too far gone for God to consider or even worry about.
Despite my thinking, God met me where I was just like that earthly father ran out to meet his son on the road.
As a father, as much as I want my sons to be obedient and respectful and kind, what I truly desire is a relationship with each of them. I want them to know how much I love them and I want their “hey dads!” to be just as exuberant and genuine.
This parable isn’t just for fathers and sons. It’s for all of us. If you’ve been a believer for a while, and like Johnny, find yourself being religious and trying to earn your way; today I want you to know that God is not interested in your religious activity but simply wants to connect with you.
And if you’re like Mikey, lost and at the end of your rope or unsure of all this talk about connecting and coming home; know that God, like the father in this story, has never stopped waiting for your return with open arms and that the “cow is being fattened already on your behalf” as God celebrates that desire in your heart to know Him. He’s been waiting this whole time.
And how do you get there? How do you return home?
You do what Mikey did by repenting and turning to God to ask him for his forgiveness.
And if you’ve been home but still feel distant, how do you get closer? By realizing you don’t need to earn, or be good enough, for his approval.
The story of this father and his two sons, is about us and our relationship with our Heavenly Father. He is waiting for us, He wants to connect with us, and He wants us to come just as we are.
There’s nothing happy about Memorial Day. It’s a day of somber reflection for those brave souls whose graves we mark with Old Glory this time every year. We owe them, at a minimum, 3 minutes at 3:00pm remembering their sacrifice.
We also need to remember the sacrifices paid by the families whose loved ones will never return. As some have stated well, if we don’t we risk seeing freedom as a birthright and forgetting it comes at a profound price.
Americans should understand that freedom takes every instrument of our national power: diplomacy, information, our military, and our economy…and we’re good at it! But there are times when it takes even more…it takes the blood of men and women willing to face down the enemy’s gun barrel.
So we owe it to these heroes to thank the good Lord daily for them and if not, do we deserve to enjoy the fruits of their full measure of devotion?
STAFF SERGEANT THOMAS J. FORTE
TECHNICIAN FOURTH GRADE WILLIAM EDWARD PRITCHETT
TECHNICIAN FOURTH GRADE JAMES A. STEWART
CORPORAL MAGER BRADLEY
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS GEORGE DAVIS
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JAMES L. LEATHERWOOD
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS GEORGE W. MOTEN
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS DUE W. TURNER OF ARKANSAS
PRIVATE CURTIS ADAMS
PRIVATE ROBERT GREEN
PRIVATE NATHANIAL MOSS
Recently I was asked to provide closing remarks at the end of an event where a documentary honoring the memory of the Wereth Eleven was shown. Before being asked to participate, I had never heard of this tragic event in American World War II history. Below are my remarks:
Today we honor the memory of these courageous Americans!
We honor the Langer family for their love, kindness, and courage in the face of grave danger. As you can imagine, they didn’t see eleven sub-humans, as they were considered in their own homeland, but they saw eleven men in need of safety and hospitality. Even more, they sought to remember them for eternity even though their paths only crossed for but a few hours. (http://www.wereth.org/en/home)
We are grateful to Master Sergeant (Retired) Rob Wilkens for his research and USA TODAY reporter Jim Michaels for taking the story to an even wider audience with the article he wrote in November 2013. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/07/wereth-black-soldiers-battle-of-bulge-army-world-war-ii-history/3465059/)
We owe gratitude to former U.S. Representatives Jim Gerlach and Chaka Fattah (both from Pennsylvania) for introducing a Resolution to the Senate Armed Services Committee to revise a 1949 report to appropriately recognize the Wereth Eleven massacre. You see, the original report documented a dozen similar massacres during the battle of the bulge, but did not include any reference to the killings in Wereth. (https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-concurrent-resolution/141)
We thank the administrators of the U.S. Memorial Wereth, specifically, Ms. Solange Dekeyser, for her tireless efforts to keep the memorial as a visible reminder to current and future generations. (http://www.wereth.org/en/home)
Quite frankly, like many, I’d never heard of the Wereth 11. I am a recent convert to the study of American history in World War II. My conversion took place 6 years ago on a staff ride to Normandy where my curiosity drove me to wonder about the logistics feat it took to sustain D-day and other ensuing battles. During that tour, I marveled at the youth of the men who fought and died in those battles and have since made it a point to visit some of the cemeteries and memorials in Europe where American service members are buried.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m familiar with many of the more popular stories; the Tuskegee Airmen, the massacre at Sant’anna di Stazzema in Tuscany, Italy, and many others that have had a visible place in our history.
But this story really hits you hard. Maybe it’s the gruesome pictures the photographer took after the snow had melted in January 1945 when the bodies were discovered; maybe it’s the human depravity that led to such hatred of those men and what they represented enough to not just murder them but torture and maim them beforehand; maybe it’s the 50-years the families suffered and mourned in silence as others were acknowledged and celebrated and their loved ones left out. Whatever the reason, this story tugs at our heartstrings.
Have you ever felt ignored? Ever been in a meeting and felt like your voice wasn’t being heard? Ever felt like no one would understand your point of view? A very lonely place to be isn’t it?
As I pondered this story and what I’d been asked to talk about, it dawned on me how much richer we become as a culture when we hear others’ stories. How much deeper friendships get when we try to understand better and how much we learn when we listen to a different team member’s perspective.
So, what’s the takeaway or what do we learn from the story of the Wereth Eleven?
- You should learn that each of the over 400,000 service members who died in World War II has a story that deserves to be told and a life that should be honored. Why? Because all gave some, and some gave all. And because of that fact, the invisible, like the Wereth 11, became visible.
- You should learn from a quote by Frederick Douglas: “For a man who does not value freedom for himself will never value it for others, or put himself to any inconvenience to gain it for others.” The Wereth Eleven knew the value of freedom. They were only three generations removed from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. They surrendered that day in December because by doing so, they would spare the lives of the Langer family that harbored them.
- If you’re a military leader, you should learn the importance of fostering a unit culture and environment that is strengthened by the inherent diversity of an all-volunteer force. The diversity of thought, background, upbringing, race, gender, and creed. Those individual stories and perspectives provide leaders every possible input and consideration to make the best decision for our mission.
- And finally, you should learn to dare as the Roman philosopher and Statesman, “Seneca” once said:
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”
Dare to make a difference with no desire for recognition!
Dare to excel without fear of it not counting!
Dare to give…for it is better to do so than to receive!
Dare to leave a legacy…for you are descendants of a great one!
Thank you for remembering the Wereth Eleven!
“The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right.”
– God is a great travel agent but He’s not big on itineraries
– Mountain top experiences are preparation for valley work
– Man complicates, God simplifies
In April 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned in Birmingham Alabama for participating in a nonviolent demonstration against segregation. As we all took time to ponder his work, message, and dream yesterday, I also took time to read one of his writings (something I’ve tried to do every year).
At the time of his imprisonement, religious leaders in the south penned a public statement expressing concern and caution that his nonviolent protests would lead to violence and that instead, he should let the courts handle the issues. His letter from Birmingham jail was his response to those religious leaders and is a must read for us today. As I read it again and again, some quotes really jumped out at me; quotes we’ve all heard time and time again and are apropo today.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”
“History is the long tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.”
“…freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
“…justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appealing silence of the good people.”
So many of us struggle with the balance between “doing something of value to the world outside our comfort zones” or remaining armchair quarterbacks and limiting our contribution to a “like” button. MLK’s letter is yet another charge to all of us to be open-eyed about issues affecting our fellow man and doing something.
This weekend I listened to a friend of mine relay his story to an audience of men about how he gave up a career in the army as a surgeon to serve as a medical missionary in South America. The call on his heart to do missions came when he was 17! It took another 17 years for God to prepare him and arm him with all the tools he would need to carry out his calling.
We all have a gift; endowed upon us by our creator with a specific mission to serve. Read MLK’s letter this week, then go out and do something.
Happy 2016 + 13 days!
I’ve spent the last 30 months studying transnational issues affecting the world we live in; terrorism (at home and abroad), organized crime, corruption, violence against women, obesity, religious persecution, cyber crime, migration, and communicable diseases just to name a few. I’ve spoken to leaders from all over the world about possible solutions to these challenges. The reason these are challenges is because of the complexity and global impact any one approach to solving them faces. Citizens of the world do get a vote when it comes to solving complex problems.
However, before you vote, do your homework! Evolve from baby bird status where you only ingest chewed up food from a provider, to hunting for facts about global issues yourself. Take an interest in understanding the world from several view points.
Understand what a bad day feels like for a 7-year old boy from Syria, Bangui, or Ghazni.
Talk to someone who’s survived an earthquake or recovered from malaria.
Sit in a room and listen to someone who’s been ostracized or badly beaten for their faith.
Fellowship with someone struggling with a family member who’s been brainwashed to join a violent extremist group and their fears of never seeing their loved on again.
Talk to the young woman who struggled to get out of a bad neighborhood, made her way through school, and now can’t find a job that pays well enough to cover food and her student loans.
Talk to someone with a family member suffering from an addiction.
Fellowship with a veteran (of any war) and hear their stories of defending freedom in other lands or saving lives in disease-ravaged cities.
You’ll get a fresh perspective on global problems and a better appreciation of what it takes to get to a solution. More importantly, you’ll be moved to action.
Far too many people sit around waiting for a biased opinion to latch on to, and then are happy to castigate those with different opinions from theirs. Not as many are willing to step away from their keyboards to be part of the solution to ANYTHING.
While many people have made resolutions to improve themselves and should now be approaching the 2-week “milestone of death”, I challenge you to do something for the space between your ears and for others. LEARN MORE about the world around you and the challenges we face then in 2016, DO SOMETHING to make a fraction of a dent in improving conditions for someone facing any of the challenges mentioned above.
3-2-1, let’s go!
One minute I’m celebrating the joy of my mum’s 70th birthday the next minute I’m overwhelmed by all the tragedy in the world. Plane crash in Egypt; concert fire in Romania; war torn Iraq, Syria, and Libya; drunk drivers crashing into trick-a-treaters; refugees fleeing war-ravaged cities and arriving in Europe in the thousands, many drowning enroute from Northern Africa; disease-plagued countries; poverty, malnutrition; violent extremists; and a general lack of tolerance for humanity. It’s all overwhelmingly depressing. With all this going on around us, what is there to rejoice about?
Usually we respond with gratitude for being spared from these atrocities. I don’t want to believe that a loving God would spare some and just say “screw-it” to others.
Some Christians will even say things like “God must be punishing them for their sins.” I can’t even fathom the logic and the venomous judgement in this statement. It paints God as an egotistical maniac who goes around ignoring His own promises simply to place “some” sinners in His crosshairs and to then “take them out” with a tornado or earthquake.
Some direct their anger towards God, blaming Him for the state of the world and at the same time denying He even exists because a loving God wouldn’t let any of this happen. These same people will also find someone to blame. It must be the U.S. President’s fault because leadership (the one you don’t like or support) is always responsible.
Honestly, if you have a heartbeat, you can’t help but be moved to some sort of reaction and then…?
Exactly. What happens next?
I have noticed an acute focus on God’s priorities following disaster or tragedy. We may not be outright accepting of a specific dogma, but we tend to value love over hate, tolerance over intolerance, service over self, giving over taking, fraternity over factions, solutions over blame, forgiveness over resentment, and of course, grace and mercy.
We live in a very imperfect world filled with imperfect people. With this inherent imperfection, we simply lack the capability to create perfection. We easily try to talk in terms of goodness but goodness wasn’t the plan to begin with. “Good” people have bombed abortion clinics. “Good” people traded slaves and hung them on trees. “Good” people have stood by and watched others prey upon the weakened (notice I didn’t say weak). “Good” people troll the Internet daily and “kill” people with their vilifying comments and then blame them for “putting themselves out there” as to say, “well they deserve it”.
I wish there was a utopia where we could all just rejoice 24/7. A place without pain or sorrow. A place with clean air, green grass, blue waters, no famine or disease, no family drama. A place where birds chirped, lions roared, and people sang all in one rhythmic chorus.
Wait! Such a place has already been described…by the One who envisioned it to begin with. He also promised that in this world, we would have trouble but in Him, there’d be peace. He didn’t just leave an image for us to be transfixed while staring longingly into space for that utopia. He offered and indeed freed us from mental and spiritual slavery while here. He left instructions on how to treat others in the midst of the storm. He acknowledged that our attempts at goodness would never hit the mark but then offered to bridge the gap between our fallen nature and perfection.
How can you rejoice at a time like this? You don’t rejoice in what is…you rejoice in the hopefulness of what is to come. That hope leads to a peace that passes all understanding. That peace is hard to contain and drives us to serve others with our time, talent, and treasures. That service, is how humanity bounces back from tragedy. All this is done, not for praise or recognition, but with a deep sense that “we are all beggars, telling other beggars where to find bread.”
What if you don’t believe any of this? Then the obvious question is, what do you believe and how does what you believe inform your reaction to the world around you. I remember a conversation I had with my son a few years ago. It was about value. What we do either adds value to people’s lives or doesn’t. Thus, the purpose of this post isn’t to advocate a certain dogma, but to encourage a perspective that results in added-value in spite of crises or calamity.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33