THE FATHER HEART OF GOD
What’s Your Father Like?
God can speak to us in many, many ways. He speaks to us primarily through His word, through His Son, His Spirit and through other people. God also speaks to us through any means possible. This is something that theologians have called common grace, and there have been two movies that God has used to speak to me. One is Simon Burch. It is a great movie, but brutal. I mean, it will just rip your heart out. But it has a great point to it. Another movie that I saw a while back is called Hope Floats. It was another emotional roller-coaster ride.
If you’ve not seen it, it’s a story of this mom and wife named Birdee. She has a nine-year-old girl, Bernice. In this film, Birdee discovers, rather abruptly (I won’t tell you the details) that her husband is having an affair with her best friend. When she hears this, there’s a time of separation where she goes back to Texas to her small town, and she leaves the big city. The whole time, the father’s calling his little girl Bernice, who’s with the mom (Sandra Bullock) there, saying, “I’ll come back for you…I’m going to come back for you.”
But there’s a scene towards the end of the movie where the father comes back to the small town, to see his wife and to see his little girl, and to tell her that he wants a divorce. I have a clip from that movie I want to show to you guys. He’s trying to explain this to his daughter, Bernice, and she’s kind of confused about what’s going on.
Bernice – I’m coming with you, Daddy!
Birdee – Bernice?
Bernice – I’m going with Daddy.
Dad – Bernice, what do you think you’re doin’?
Bernice – I’m going with you.
Dad – Honey, that’s impossible.
Bernice – But I’m going with you.
Dad – You gotta stay with your mama. Birdee, you gonna help me out?
Bernice – You told me you wanted me with you, remember?
Dad – Listen, honey, I’ve got to go. Don’t do this to yourself, OK? Don’t make a scene. Go on back inside. Go ahead.
Bernice – Stop it, Daddy!
Dad – Bernice, you know I’d take you with me if I could.
Bernice – You can!
Dad – Try to understand, baby. Connie and I need this time to ourselves, to make a go of it. Then I’ll come back for you. I promise, I promise! Now, go on inside, please!
Bernice – You want me! You wrote it in a letter! Please… let me in! You want me!
Dad – I’ll always want you, Bernice. You’re my little princess.
Bernice – No.
Dad – But your mama needs you.
Bernice – No!
Dad – And you need her.
Bernice – No, I don’t! I need you!
Dad – I love you, princess.
Bernice – Please!
Dad – I gotta go.
Bernice – No! No! Daddy! Daddy! Please! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! I want my daddy!
End of Movie clip.
It’s brutal. As I watched that movie and as I reviewed that clip, I thought, “I wonder how many Bernices there are in the world—in our country—that their dad just cruised on them.” Then I started to think about, just within our room here tonight, how many people, how many of us, have gone through the experience of having a dad leave or a dad make promises and not fulfill those promises?
I’m really convinced the longer I live and the longer I minister to people and counsel with people, that so many of us struggle with God and are unable to relate to God, unable to really experientially know His love and His forgiveness, because we had a horrible past, or we had a broken family, or we had a dad who was never there, or who abused us, or who berated us, or who laid perfectionist standards upon us. And as we get older—we don’t even know that we do this—we take all the junk that we’ve experienced from our earthly father, and we say, “Then God must be like that, too.” What happens to so many of us here is that our father, who is supposed to reflect the image of God to us, instead of reflecting that image to us, so many, many times that image is distorted.
The goal of this series is for you to know God as Father and for you to be able to experience His love and His embrace, for you to have the freedom to run up into the arms of your Heavenly Father and to know Him and also for you to know what it means to be a son or a daughter of the Living God.
We have all these people telling us how to have self-esteem and self-worth. I believe the answer is in understanding who God is and understanding who we are in light of who He is. I want us to look at and really unpack what we saw in the clip there and talk about what happens to us when the character of God is not reflected in our life through our dad, but is often distorted.
Jesus talked about that in probably the most famous speech/sermon that’s ever been penned, and that’s in the Sermon of the Mount. It’s in Matthew 7. Look at verses 9 through 11. Jesus says: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, would give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those ask who Him!”
In that passage, Jesus Christ basically says earthly fathers provide a picture of our Heavenly Father. Earthly fathers, earthly dads, provide a picture or an image of our Heavenly Father. Everything that we see here on earth is analogous to something that’s in heaven. So God set it up where we would see Him through earthly forms, and earthly forms would point to heavenly realities.
We can see that all throughout the Word of God. We can see that through nature. We can see that in the tabernacle in the Old Testament. The tabernacle in the Old Testament is simply a shadow or a type that points to the heavenly reality of the tabernacle that exists there. We see that in the creation, when God made man, when God made woman, He made us what? In His image. So we are a reflection of the heavenly reality.
We can see that in worship that we enjoy. We come together as a group and as a community to worship and sing praises to God; that is simply a reflection, it’s a human form that points to the heavenly reality of the worship that we’ll experience at the apocalypse that John reveals to us in the book of Revelation. So God designed it this way. He designed order in His universe, and He wanted us to see Him through many earthly forms.
Now, this does not mean that what goes on down here on this planet is less true. It doesn’t mean what happens to you and me and our experiences are less true. It simply means that somehow, and in a mysterious way, what happens in the heavenly realms is still truer. In this passage Jesus is saying, “If you were an earthly father and your son asks you for bread, would you give him a stone, would you trick him? If he asked for a fish to eat, would you give him a snake?” And He says this, “Though you are evil,” and He’s saying, “Though you are an imperfect father (there are no perfect fathers) and you want to give good gifts to your children, how much more does your Heavenly Father want to give to you?”
But what happens? What happens if you grow up in a home, or perhaps you’re growing up in a home right now (you’ve not left home yet), and your father, instead of giving you bread/instead of giving you fish, he literally gives you a snake! He gives you stones. How will that impact your life? How will that affect your ability to connect with God, to relate to Him? How will it affect your ability to relate to friends and to relate to people of the opposite sex? How will that affect you and affect me?
Let me give you several examples of what it can do in your life when a father who’s supposed to reflect God’s image, distorts His image. Take, for example, a guy named John. John grew up in a home where his dad was just verbally abusive. And pretty soon, his dad’s words changed from simply harsh words to violence. And many times, John would be asleep upstairs with his little brother, and his dad would come home, and he would just come and just beat the stew, beat the living fool, beat the daylights out of John and out of his little brother. One time he said that his dad actually used a nine-foot long bullwhip to punish him and discipline him. Another time his dad took off one of his shoes and just his beat his little brother to a pulp, and his brother just fell down on the ground and was defenseless.
Now, what do you think is going to happen to John? What’s going to happen to John when he grows up? How do you think he’s going to view God? If his earthly father was a jerk, his earthly father beat him, what will happen to him? I’m convinced until God’s love breaks through John’s life, until God’s love breaks through your life, you will continue to see God. You will continue to understand God the Father in light of your earthly experience, in light of your earthly dad. How do you think John will view God?
Now, what would he think if he came into a service that said: “Yay, we’re starting a series on the Father heart of God!” Do you think he would be able to connect with that?
Or take another example of a young lady I know named Jenny. Her story can be repeated time and time and time and time again. Jenny grew up in a home; it looked like a good Christian home, with a mom and a dad. But when she was about 12 years of age, her dad would come into her room at night, and violate her and molest her. Now she’s in her mid-twenties, and she’s trying to understand the love of God in Jesus Christ, and she says this, “You know? I really want to know Christ. I really do, but I really have a tough time trusting a male figure because the only time my father ever said he loved me was when he was having sex with me.”
Take another example. A guy I know named Mike. Mike was a phenomenal athlete. He was all-district quarterback for a school in Texas. And many years ago, he led his team as a quarterback to the 5A State Championship, and he threw a touchdown in the final minutes of the game to win the victory. As he was walking off the field, he saw his dad. He thought his dad was coming to congratulate him, but his dad said this to him (Now, listen to this—after winning the State 5A Football Championship, where his son threw the winning pass), “You know, if you would have really been alert, you wouldn’t have thrown that interception in the second quarter.”
When Mike grows up, how do you think he sees God? I’m sure he sees God as a perfectionist; he sees God as demanding unless something isn’t broken through in his life. Let me read you a letter that someone wrote to their dad after he passed away, “Dear Dad, It’s not easy for me to write you. After all, why should I? You can’t read it. Even if you could, you wouldn’t, would you? You were never interested in me or anything I did. Why did you and mother even have me? How could you bear a child and never be even remotely interested in him? It seems after five others, you would have realized that, to you, kids were a nuisance. I thank God that Mary Louise only lived two weeks—she was spared a life of hell here on earth. It amazes me that we could live in the same house for the twenty years that I was there, and we never spoke to each other. There was never a conversation or a communication with you. Everything was a direct command—it demanded absolute and direct obedience. Did you ever look at a report card? Did you ever consider attending a school play or coming to watch a ball practice? Where were you when it was time to share the joy of winning? The times we were defeated, there was no one there to help me bear my pain.”
Do you see what happens? What happens when you grow up in a home where a father, who is supposed to communicate love and comfort and security, only communicates violence and abuse and perversion? I’ll tell you what happens—it can happen to you, it can happen to me—subconsciously we take all the junk, all the garbage that our dad did to us, and we say: “If my dad is like that, then God must be like that, too.”
And so many times, people come into the church and they hear the love of God, the love of Jesus Christ, the grace and the mercy, and intellectually and mentally they want to soak it in and take it, but their experiences are so strong that they have these walls that they build that seemingly prevent them from going to experience the depths of God’s love.
You see workaholic fathers, passive fathers, abusive fathers, neglectful fathers, fathers who have left; and so what happens is, people grow up and when we go to church and we sit in the pew and we have our quiet time and our small group, but we’re still not really connecting with God. We’re still not experiencing His love, His forgiveness, His wholeness. Because we have this junk that we have been carrying around, and we’re not even aware of it, and we just project that onto God.
So many, many times I’ve sat down and talked with people, and they’re just so messed up in their lives. And they’re going here, and they’re having these problems understanding God. They don’t know what God is really like. And I always ask them, “Tell me, what was your father like?” It’s amazing. They’ll think God is aloof, God is from a distance, God is never there, “God doesn’t hear my prayer.” What is your father like? They’ll say, “My dad left when I was two years of age.”
Many people who are agnostics or atheists have all these great intellectual smoke screens on why they don’t believe in God. But when you get down to it, a lot of times you see they had an abusive parent, or you see the fact that their father left, and they thought, “Well, he left,” and later on, “God must not be there either.”
So let me ask you that question here tonight. What is your father like? What is your earthly dad like? I want you to think about that and get in touch with that. Ask yourself if that is the way you relate to God? I know you say that God loves you, and you want to believe that God loves you, and you sing about that and you tell people that. But do you really believe that in your heart of hearts, that the Father God unconditionally loves you and accepts you as His son and as His daughter? Do you know His Father heart? Or are you taking the junk that happened to you and simply projecting that onto God and building that wall?
What happens when we don’t get in touch with that, when we don’t realize what’s going on in our lives, we don’t realize that we’re taking these distorted pictures of God and projecting them—pictures that we’re pulling from our past? It’s a vicious cycle. I mean, you can see it. You had a bad dad, a horrible dad. You take that experience. Boom! You project that onto God.
And then what do you do? Do you run to God as your father? Of course not; you run away from Him. You run away from the only person who can give you love, who can give you wholeness, who can give you fulfillment. And then what do you do? You leap into the arms of another lover. You find that comfort in another relationship. Or maybe you find that comfort in a substance, or in food, or in sexual addition or pleasure…wherever you look. So we go and we search and we search and we search, and we’re just searching for that affirmation, that love, that praise, that attention from our father that he may have never given you. And it goes on and on and on and on.
Some of you here tonight have some walls that are built up inside of you, and these walls are so thick, they’re so high, they would make the Great Wall of China look like a speed bump. They would. But you know what? God has good news for us. And that’s what the Gospel means; the Gospel means the proclamation of good news.
I had a teacher years ago, say this, and I’ll never forget it. He said, “If people knew what God was really like, they would run to Him.” They would run to Him! So many of you see God as judgmental or harsh, and you only see the passages that refer to His wrath and His judgment, and you don’t see His grace and His mercy. So many of you see God as some senile old man, way up there who doesn’t care about what’s going on in your life.
Some of you see God as the sergeant, the captain of the religious fun police. Some of you see God as a manipulative boss. God wants to reveal Himself to you in His word and through this series of what He’s really like. He wants to reveal His Father heart to you. He wants you to know His love; He wants you to know His forgiveness. He wants you to know the plans and the purposes that He has for your life. He wants you to know and to feel what it’s like to be a son and a daughter of the Living God—to be in God’s family.
And the good news is, there are no perfect fathers. No father is perfect. No father presents a perfect picture of what God is really like. I was very blessed; I have a great dad—a phenomenal dad—I had to appreciate my dad. I loved him, but my dad cannot and did not perfectly reflect the character of God.
I’m a father now, and I want to reflect God’s character and His love to my children. But you know what? I mess up, I blow it. I’ve already messed up zillions of times in these years of experience I’ve had. So I’m not here to say, “Hey, let’s look at your dad and let’s bash dads!” and, “Boy, I’m screwed up, and it’s not my fault; it’s their fault!” That’s not it. But I am saying, a lot of things that you feel guilty about, a lot of things you feel a lot of shame about is because of something that happened to you, and it’s not your fault. All of this is a result of sin; all of this is a result of the fall, of the wickedness and the evil. The good news is, there are no perfect dads.
Also the good news is; that God’s power and His love are able to transcend your earthly conditions. Isn’t that awesome? That’s why we sing worship songs to God; that’s why we pray. We’re not praying because boy, we hope this is right or because we’re trying to have some existential leap up here through emotionalism or singing and praying, or whatever. We believe that God is real. We believe that God is ultimate reality, and we believe in the power of God and God’s Holy Spirit. And God’s Holy Spirit can transcend whatever childhood experience you had or you’re having in your life right now.
God is bigger, He is greater, and He is more powerful than anything that you can ever go through. And it doesn’t matter who you are – it doesn’t matter if you grew up in a Leave-It-To-Beaver family or with Mike Brady as this great dad. You can come to God the Father and say, “God, I thank You that I had a wonderful father. I had a wonderful dad, but I also thank You that You’re much greater and even better than my earthly father.”
Or maybe you can say tonight, “You know, my dad was a jerk, my dad was manipulative, my dad did leave me, he did abuse us, he did all those things, but I praise God that my Heavenly Father is different.” If you haven’t trusted yourself with Him, your Heavenly Father will be very different. Just because you had a bad dad, a horrible experience, it doesn’t mean that you can’t connect and know God as your loving Heavenly Father. I mean, that’s just ludicrous. That’s like saying: “Well, if you have a bad dad then you’re going to have a bad relationship with God. You had a good dad then you are going to have a good relationship with God.” It doesn’t work that way. But I do know, and I’ve seen this happen time and time and time and time again in people’s lives, where God’s love and God’s power transcend all the junk, all the garbage, of our childhood…all the memories, He’s able to come in and to heal.
If you’ve ever been down to Galveston, you’ll notice that there’s that giant sea wall, right? That big sea wall is built as a barrier that will prevent the waves from coming over into the streets, and coming over into the businesses and houses there. But you know what? God and His love and His power through Jesus Christ, is like a tidal wave. And once the tidal wave of God’s love breaks through your life, once this tidal wave of His grace and His mercy comes, it just breaks over all those walls that you’ve built up inside.
It breaks over the hurt, it breaks over the pain, it breaks over the disappointment, and it breaks over the rejection. And His love, this wave, this tidal wave of His love and His mercy through Jesus, through His Spirit, begins to engulf you and begins to heal you. It begins to comfort you and begins to give you that security that you, indeed, are a child of God and that God is your Heavenly Father, and that you can go to Him at any time and at any place, and He’s always, always there. He cares about every little detail in your life. He knows everything that you’ve done, even before you’ve done it, and He still loves you through Jesus. That’s the tidal wave of God’s love.
That is my prayer; I’ve been praying this for weeks, “Oh God, that you would just release a tidal wave of Your love and Your mercy, that Your weight would just break over all these walls that we have erected, these things we try to push You off and keep You at a distance, these sins that have happened upon us, these sins that we’ve committed.” I pray that God’s love would just break over and heal and restore and bring freshness and cleansing, joy and peace into our lives. That’s my prayer.
Do you realize that the father-son relationship that Jesus Christ shared with the Heavenly Father, that’s the same kind of relationship He wants us to experience right here and now when we’re on the earth. We’re going to talk more about that this series, but it’s going to blow your mind to think about that. That’s the “much more”—if our earthly fathers wanted to give us good gifts, how “much more” does our Heavenly Father want to give to those He loves?
Listen, it doesn’t matter what happened to you. If your father told you that you would never amount to anything; it doesn’t matter if he abused you, if he neglected you, if he left you, if he was never there, if he was a workaholic, if he was unavailable, it doesn’t matter. It does not have to be that way. God’s love is powerful. His Son Jesus Christ broke the power of death, the power of sin, and all of the evil is washed away in the wake of God’s love and of God’s mercy.
A couple of years ago, I was sitting around with four of my close friends. We were having what we call a “Dad Off.” And they were all talking about who had the worst dad. And they’d been through some hellacious experiences—I don’t have time to get into them. But these four people today have a phenomenal relationship with Jesus Christ. And these four people have a phenomenal ability to connect to the Father heart of God, in spite of what happened in their past. They have a love for Him; they have a love for other people that’s phenomenal, because why? They were overwhelmed by the tidal wave of God’s love and mercy, and then they fought it out with the power of God’s Spirit, to break through the crud, to break through the distortion that may have occurred when they were a little boy, or they were a little girl. The power of God’s love.
So many times we think we have to be like little Bernice was in that video, just running after our dad, “Oh Daddy, Daddy, come back!” And some of you think, “Golly, my earthly daddy never came back; he’ll never come back.” Let me tell you something: Your Heavenly Father is not like that. You don’t have to get up tonight and run to your Heavenly Father, because you know what? God, the Heavenly Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, is chasing after you, and He’s running towards you. The Bible said that God is running towards you, as a Heavenly Father, and He’s running towards you with His arms open wide. He wants you to feel and to know His embrace and comfort. Father, release us tonight. Let’s take the risk of receiving this phenomenal love, this voracious love that we don’t deserve. Just take that risk and allow Him to love us and to hold us and to submerge us in the tidal wave of His love and of His mercy.
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]