Like most people, I can look back over the years and see tremendous ways that God has blessed my life. Being married to one great lady for 53 years is a wonderful blessing. That blessing has led to lots of other powerful blessings. Among the greatest of all blessings in my life has been to have three precious daughters. Bringing up daughters who make you feel like a special dad all the time is an amazing treat. Through the years these daughters have married good men and each had three children of their own so that we now have nine grandchildren and it is more mixed with five grandsons and four granddaughters. But it hasn’t stopped with them. Two of our married grandchildren now have two children each so that we are also wonderfully blessed with four great grandchildren. So, now it isn’t just dad that I hear, but most of the time I hear the word “Papa” which doubles up on the joy involved.
I know that the place of a mother is special in some ways that even a dad can’t comprehend. But it is truly amazing to think that God would have us call him “Our Father in heaven.” When the Bible refers to God being referred to as “Abba Father” it is even more powerful in that it takes the Aramaic word for “Dad” or “Daddy” and lays it alongside the more formal word “Father” in reference to God.
Jesus was known around the world in his day for the stories that he told to illustrate the nature of his kingdom. One of the greatest stories he ever told was about a father and sons. That story is one we call the parable of the prodigal son. It is more accurately called the story of the Loving Father. A father had two sons. One day the younger son came to the father and asked that he divide his living with him so that he might have his share of the inheritance now. It was as though he expressed the desire that his dad go ahead and die so he could receive his inheritance. Amazingly, the father divided his wealth between his sons and that younger son, took his wealth and departed for a far country where he wasted his wealth in prodigal living. Afterward there arose a huge famine in the land and the boy began to be in tremendous need. Even in that horrible situation no one gave him anything. Instead the friends that were there when the money flowed were all gone now. He went out and joined himself to a citizen of the country who sent him out to feed swine. For a Jewish boy who had grown up being told that pigs were unclean animals that they were not to eat or touch, to feed the pigs was the lowest of job to have. There, things got so bad he longed to fill his stomach with the pods the swine were eating. It was then that he came to himself and remembered that even the servants in his father’s house had bread enough to eat and to spare yet he was perishing with hunger. He said, “I will arise and go to my father. I will say to my father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants.”
He arose and came to the Father’s house. While he was still a long way off the father saw him and ran to meet him. He threw his arms around him and kissed him. The boy began to say, “I have sinned against heaven and before you and am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father paid no attention to that. He said to the servants, “Go and get the best robe and put it on his back, get shoes for his feet and a ring for his finger and kill the fattened calf and lets begin to rejoice for my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.”
When the partying started the older brother came in from the field. He heard the music and dancing and refused to go in. He asked a servant what was going on. The servant told him his brother had come home and his dad had killed the fattened calf to rejoice. In anger he stayed outside until the father came out to him and pleaded with him to come in. He said to his father, “For all these years I have slaved for you and never transgressed any of your laws, yet you never gave me even a young goat that I might rejoice with my friends. But when this son of yours comes home who has wasted your money with prostitutes you killed for him the fattened calf.” The Father explained, “Son, you are always with me and all that I have is yours. But it was right when your brother came home to rejoice because he was dead and is alive again. He was lost and was found.”
This father represents God as our father. He is the ideal as a father. He allowed his sons to make decisions and feel the consequences even when their decisions were wrong. Too often we rush to rescue our children from all forms of trouble and end up making matters worse. When he left for the far country, the father let him go and didn’t go after him. Even when things became horrible for him in the far country, the father didn’t rush down to save him. He allowed him to feel the weight of his choices. When the boy repented and came home in regret, the father ran to meet him. He didn’t sit on the porch and declare, he had made his bed and now he could just lie in it. He jumped and ran to meet him. It was undignified. It would bring criticism even from his other son. But he showed love and compassion without regard to what others would say. He so fully forgave that when the boy began saying he wasn’t worthy, he ignored it and sent for the best robe, the new shoes and the fine ring. His son was home again.
When the older brother complained he didn’t rebuke him but felt with him and tried to help him understand that it was right to throw such a party for this son who had wandered away. But he lovingly pleaded with this son also to come in. When you refuse to come in with the brother you also miss being with the father.
I want to be a father like this father whose love wouldn’t quit and whose forgiveness was bigger than life. This kind of father makes it easier to repent when you go astray. He gave him good memories to cling to even in the hog pen. Too often we become fathers like the older brother rather than the Father and miss the greatest blessings to be had in any family.
Leon Barnes, Central church in Little Rock, AR
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