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.