THE FATHER HEART OF GOD
What’s Our Father Like?
(Just before the message, the worship band performed the song “Father of Mine” by Everclear).
That’s a powerful song. How many people can say that? I am glad they put that song to the right music because when you read it—too tough! We live in a society today where boys and girls and men and women are crying out for a father.
Comedian Louie Anderson wrote a book called Dear Dad, and this book is a series of letters he wrote to his now deceased father. Louie grew up in a home where he was one of eleven children, and his dad was an alcoholic. In this book Dear Dad—it’s a humorous book, I understand—he is trying to deal with a lot of the pain and the brokenness in the hilarious way he is known for, having a fairly clean bit. Once after one of his routines a lady approached him and said, “Louie, I just want to tell you how much I appreciate your comedy and how you try to refrain from cussing, and you never use the “’f”’ word,” and Louie said, “Oh no, ma’am, I use the ‘“f”’ word. I used the “’f”’ word today; didn’t you hear it? Family.” And she goes, “Oh no, no. I didn’t mean that “’f”’ word,” and he goes, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, you mean that other “’f”’ word; I use that a lot too: Father.”
How do you deal with it, as you look back on your past if you come from a broken home, if you come from a place where you expected your father to embrace you and to love you and to give you security but instead they left you or rejected you or abandoned you? How do you deal with it? It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter where you are from, it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, what your race is, what your educational background is, what language you speak—it doesn’t matter; we have all been born with a longing to be embraced and to be accepted and to be affirmed and to be led by our father, and yet so many times we are disappointed.
John Eldredge and Brent Curtis, in their first book, The Sacred Romance, said basically that men are asking the same question in different ways. It basically says that all men are asking this one question, “Am I adequate? Do I have what it takes?” Women are asking another question that is similar; they are asking, “Am I beautiful?” Do you want me? Do you desire me? We look for that affirmation from our moms and primarily from our dads—to have that voice, to have that hand that says, “You are adequate, I am proud of you, you are my son, you are my child.” And yet for so many of us in our culture today that affirmation and those words, “I love you and I accept you and I will lead and guide you”…they never ever came.
I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home with a mom and dad who loved me and in many, many ways reflected to me the character and the nature of God. My father grew up in a home where his parents had lived through the Depression, and he said last night in his message, “You know, I went through my entire life, and I can’t remember my dad ever saying to me, ‘I’m proud of you.’”
We live in a world, in a time at least in our country, of unprecedented brokenness, unprecedented absentee dads or dads who abandon their kids and abandon their families, dads who are there but they are distant, and so many people are crying out, “Oh I want to know you, I want to love you.” But instead, the father rejects them, and what do we do? We take that longing and we direct it in a different way many, many times—not always. But we direct that longing, we look for affirmation in other places. We look for affirmation in what we can earn or how we can perform. Or we look for affirmation in sports or we look for affirmation in beauty or we look for affirmation in expressing our sexuality, and it’s intense—that longing that we have for a father. “Oh father of mine, where have you been? You gave me a name and then you walked away.” (lyrics from song at beginning of message)
Every Monday I have a Christian hangover. I wake up, I’m empty, I’m tired, and I don’t know what I said the day before. And I think that many times in our adult life we suffer from what J. B. Phillips called a parental hangover. Now, again, if you take this message today and say, “Man, Ben is really bashing on men today and fathers, and I am going to go back and blame everything on my parents,” you’re missing the point.
So many, many times our perceptions of God have been conditioned and based upon our experience with our earthly fathers and our parents. I know of a young guy who was approached by someone who said, “Hey God wants to be your father. The guy who grew up in a very tough abusive home said, “Listen, if God is anything like my earthly father, I want to have nothing to do with him!” Sigmund Freud believed that once a child lost respect for their earthly father it was nearly impossible for them to understand what it meant to have a heavenly father.
NYU professor, Dr. Paul Vitz, has written an intriguing book on the psychology of atheism, and in this book he goes back and looks at the childhoods of some of the most famous atheists in modern times. He looks at philosophers, he looks at political leaders, and he developed what he calls a defective father hypothesis. And when you look back at some of the father stories of some of the most prominent atheists and philosophers and political leaders in modern times, you are astounded when you find either a father who was not there, a father who died, or a father who was destructive and abusive. Let’s look at a few philosophers:
Friedrich Nietzsche—he was the son of a Lutheran pastor; and his dad died when Frederick was four years old. Later Nietzsche would go on to write some incredible works of philosophy, and he became an atheist and pronounced: “God is dead.” One biographer said that Nietzsche’s whole work could be classified as a quest for father.
Bertrand Russell, the brilliant Nobel Prize winning mathematician and philosopher from England, his dad died when he was four years old, and his mom passed away when he was two. He would go on to write a book called, Why I am Not a Christian, and it was really a series of essays that was published. He was a vehement opposer of theism and especially of Christianity.
Jean-Paul Sartre—was a modern day existentialist. His dad died when he was fifteen months old, and he wrote about fathers in his work. He said fathers would bring a big weight and a big burden on children that would crush them down. He looked at people that were fatherless, like himself, as people with a sense of lightness and people who could make that one true authentic choice to live their lives. Another existentialist, Albert Camus—his dad died when he was one year old, and the whole concept of father was the preoccupation of his work.
You can look at political leaders like Adolph Hitler and Mao Tse-Tung and Stalin, and you can find an abusive and destructive dad. And Vitz comes to a conclusion in his book. He says that when you look at the history of some of the most influential atheists you will find a weak, dead or abusive father.
Parental hangover. Oftentimes our experiences of our earthly dad affects the way we view God our Heavenly Father, and so we reason many times subconsciously: “Well, if I grew up in a home, and my dad was angry,” then we see God as angry; “If my dad was passive and aloof when we grew up” (even in the church), we see God as passive and aloof. If our dad abandoned and left us like many of these great philosophers we tend to grow up and see that God is really not there, that he is the one who abandoned us. We just take all these negative experiences, we take all these negative character qualities and just transfer them onto God, and we do this many times not even knowing that we are doing it.
What about your history? What about your story? What about your father? What about your mother? The way you were raised? Is that the same way that you see God? How would you fill in the blank? My father never gave me blank. My father never gave me acceptance? My father never gave me affirmation? My father never gave me security? Boundaries? Discipline? What is it? Ask yourself this question: Are you taking that and throwing that onto God?
Psalm 27:10 says this, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” Isn’t that great? And here is the good news about this message, the word that I believe that God has placed on my heart: Your Heavenly Father is not like your earthly father. God the Father and the father heart of God—He is on some level entirely different from your earthly father. Even if you grew up in a Leave it to Beaver/Brady Bunch family. Even a healthy family, a Christian family is simply a sign, a symbol that’s pointing you to a greater reality, into a greater sense of acceptance and love and affirmation that we look to from God Almighty our creator. That’s good news.
Why did Jesus die on the cross? To forgive us, yes. He died on the cross to pay the penalty that we deserve because we have all messed up and have broken God’s laws when we’re honest about it. Yes, he did. He died on the cross and lived a perfect life that we can be declared righteous and so that God is no longer our judge. Boom! He declared us not guilty and accepted and righteous.
Why else did he die on the cross? Look at our passage this morning. Look at Romans 8:15-17, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Abba is an Aramaic word, and it’s a term of endearment that we would use for our fathers, which means, Dear Daddy. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
The Old Testament shouts to us that God is holy. God is all powerful. God is all knowing. God is present everywhere. God is all sovereign. The New Testament shouts to us that not only is God holy and all powerful and all knowing, God through Christ is also our Father.
If you want to see how well you or someone you know understands Christianity just ask the question: How much do you think about the radical concept of God being your father? You see, Paul is writing this letter, as you remember, to people who were living in the Roman Empire. And under Roman law, when someone would be adopted, it had two parts. The first part of the adoption process was to cut off the first parental relationship—cancel the debt. They’d cut off the previous paternal power. And the second part of this was to fully establish this son or this daughter into the Roman family, to make them feel welcome, to let them know, “You now have a family name, and you now have a full inheritance, as if you were born into my family.”
God the Father goes out of his way for you and for me to be adopted into His heavenly family, and that is why Christ died—that we might have a new Father, that we might have a new family, that we might be a part of a new community that is the body of Christ, His church. And so that searching and that longing that we have in our hearts that has been there, the searching for a father, the searching for acceptance, the searching for discipline, the searching for security—all that search ends when we come to the realization, and only God can show us this, that God has provided a way for us to know Him as Father.
Christ has paid the price for us that we might be adopted into His family, and not only is He now God Almighty, but He is also Abba Father. And by the supernatural, amazing grace of God, you are Abba’s child. You are God’s child. That’s good news. That’s great news isn’t it? It’s too good to be true. How do we live that out? How do we allow that to sink into our hearts?
Listen to First John Chapter 3, Verse 1—John is known as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Listen to what he wrote: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! [And I think he kind of pauses there, and then he goes on and says…] And that is what we are!” I mean, can you believe it? We’re children of God. God hasn’t given us just a little bit of love. No, He has lavished His love upon us—lavished His love in Christ.
What are you searching for? What have you been searching for in your life from a father figure, a dad? Acceptance, discipline, security? What are you looking for? God the Father is all those things and more because He is our perfect heavenly Father. God the Father, He will not leave you; He will not forsake you. He will be with you when you are flat on your face in tears. He will be with you in the dark night of the soul. He will be with you in the joys and the celebrations of life. He is your creator, and He is also your Father through Christ.
That is the good news of this gospel in Romans 1. That’s why this gospel is the power of God. It takes away our shame. It takes away our guilt. It takes away the fear that we have—the legitimate fear—and replaces it with a Spirit of paternal love and affection, as we begin to learn how to connect to the Father Heart of God.
What is Jesus saying to us this morning? I believe Jesus says to us today, “Listen, come to me all who are hung-over. If you have a parental hangover, come to me. I want to show you the Father Heart of God.”
Listen, you don’t have to end your life, you don’t have to live in a way that says, “Because I had a tough past, because my dad was not there, because my dad passed away, or my dad never gave me this, I can never receive the Father Heart of God.” That is a lie. When I lock eyes with many people I see in our community, I know many people who have come from a very hard, tough path; but I have seen God do a supernatural work in your lives, and I have seen you grasp the Father Heart of God in a way that is phenomenal. So I want to encourage you here this morning if you are saying, “That can’t happen to me,” it can happen to you. Though we are forsaken, God will never forsake us or leave us.
I wish I had the power of the man on TV in that white suit—Benny Hinn. I wish I could do his thing, but I can’t. (Said totally sarcastically.) Seriously…not just physical healing, though that would be great, but I would love to do some spiritual and maybe psychological healing, just to be able to lay hands on you and say, “Stop projecting your earthly father onto God.” Bang, bang, bang, and just knock you over. I would love it. Can’t do it though; don’t have that gift.
I think many times we do the reverse of what they do in the church of Saturn—car people. I like Saturn’s motto. Saturn’s motto, in-house I understand, is this: “Under promise and over deliver.” I think so many times in the church, we over promise and under deliver, right? And then you leave here today thinking, “Man, I wish I understood the Father Heart of God like he did or like she did. Boy, I sure don’t get it yet.” (And a lot of times they really don’t understand what they are saying either, or they are just lying or faking it.) And so many times we leave church frustrated. And, again, I don’t have the power to just erase the memories in your life. I don’t have the power for you to stop doing that transfer thing—transferring your parents’ junk onto God.
But listen, when God gives you a breakthrough in your life, then He starts you on the journey. It starts out with a crisis, and you realize, “This is what I have been doing. It’s not God I am rejecting, but this is why I am not connecting with God; this is what I have been doing.” It starts with a crisis. Then we have the breakthrough, “Oh! God is not like that. God is my Heavenly Father. God loves me, God accepts me, God affirms me. In Christ, I have a new life, I have a new hope, I have a new start, I have a new family, I have a new Abba Father, and I am Abba’s child.” We have that breakthrough, and somewhere between the breakthrough and getting in our car in the parking lot, we lose it a little bit. So what do you do?
It goes like this, as I have seen it in many lives. It starts with a crisis—as far as a profound moment in your life—then you have the breakthrough, and then you have the journey of walking it out. So I pray for you this morning that today will be a time of crisis and breakthrough. And I pray that you would join us here at this church community, as we seek to walk this journey out together, as we seek to replace some memories or we seek to replace some lies that we believed with the truth of who God is and what His nature is and what His character is, so that we can tap into it and can understand the Father Heart of God and so that we don’t run around asking the question, “Am I adequate? Do I have what it takes?” If I have trusted Christ, I know God says, “I am pleased with you. You are my son. You are Abba’s child.” [You say,] “Am I beautiful? Do you want me?” Listen, God has been pursuing you since before the foundation of the world. You are wrapped in the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. He sees you as beautiful and lovely in His sight.
My favorite story that Jesus told is in Luke chapter 15. It’s a great story. It’s the story that we call the Prodigal Son, and in this story you have this situation where these two sons live with their dad. And their dad is wealthy. And this one son does the rebel thing and cruises and leaves the family and wants his trust fund, and he goes and wastes it somewhere—I don’t know, in Boulder, Colorado or someplace like that—and “finds himself.” And after he “found himself,” he gets real empty, and he is unemployed, and no more money, and he’s basically a street person. And he is saying, “Hey, what can I do with my life?” He’s tapped out. He says, “Hey, I am going to go back to my father, and I am going to beg: ‘Father, give me a job in the family business.’”
So this guy who is just worn out and maxed out and empty and lonely and fragmented, nervously makes his way back to his father’s house. And then in Luke 15:20—Jesus is telling the story, and it’s just a phenomenal verse that I think applies to us today—it says, “So he got up [that’s the son who has rebelled] and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off [while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us], his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Those two words in Luke 15:20 are maybe two of the most powerful words in Scripture: he ran.
I can’t find a place in Scripture, from Genesis all the way to genuine bonded leather, where God is in a hurry. God is not in a hurry. God is God. He doesn’t have to be in a hurry. I don’t see Jesus in the New Testament, who is God, in a hurry. I just don’t see it. I don’t see Him pulling out his blackberry, “Oh my goodness! I’ve got a seven o’clock budget meeting with Judas, and then I’ve got an eight o’clock exorcism, followed by a nine o’clock healing, and, oh my goodness, at eleven o’clock I have that luncheon, and I have got to feed 5,000 people. How can I squeeze all that in? Come on Peter, come on Paul, come on Judas, let’s go, and don’t forget my cell!”
I don’t see that, but in this passage in Luke 15:20, we see those two words. The son that was far off—God ran. God Almighty. God the powerful, omniscient, all knowing God—He ran. When does God run? When is God in a hurry? God is in a hurry when prodigals like you and prodigals like me come to our senses in our lives and we turn and we go back to God and we approach God in this way, humbly ready to receive from Him.
He doesn’t give us a name and walk away. No, He doesn’t. God runs. God runs and embraces us and has compassion on us. And He says, “Welcome home. You are Abba’s child, and you are always going to know that.” Don’t miss it. God will never walk away. Why? Because God ran. God ran. Let’s continue to worship together.
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]