A Dad’s Heart

So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. Luke 15:20 NLT

Being a dad is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve been at this “father” thing for almost 40 years. Once I think I have a handle on it, I find that I’ve lost my grip. When I think I have arrived, I realize I’m still on a journey. Pope John XXIII says, “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.”

Jesus’ influence and instruction created great interest to those who where not on the “inside”. Luke tells us, “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.” (Luke 15:1 NLT). He was different, He was dynamic, and He was deliberate. He “rattled some cages” because His love was reaching, redeeming and restorative.

This type of compassion causes controversy. The Scripture reads, “This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that He was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” (vs 2)

To illustrate the heart of God, Jesus tells three stories. The last parable illustrates a father’s passion and priority . . . it’s the account of The Prodigal Son. There are so many layers of lessons . . . yet, the attitude and action of the father provides a priority of and pathway to parenting.

He Longs. In this story, the prodigal has serious issues. His entitlement leads to his emptiness. He sets aside the learning from his childhood and trades them for a lusty life. Instead of embracing wisdom, he excessively wastes all he has. He screws up and messes up. He has it all and loses it all. Yet, through humility, he turns his heart around. We often focus on the son’s “giving in”, but the bigger story is his dad’s refusal to “give up”. I’m going to presume that the prodigal’s father made it a habit to hope for his son’s return. He was anticipating, waiting and longing. Compassionate grace takes the place of condemning guilt. The prophet Isaiah writes, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.” (Isaiah 30:18 NIV).

He Looks. “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming.” (Luke 15:20 NLT). I’ve often wondered how many days this dad was looking “a long way off”? I would surmise that searching the horizon each morning and each evening was part of his routine. His father didn’t know the condition of his son’s heart, yet he was still longing and looking for him. Brown writes, “Oh yes, when but the face is turned homeward, though as yet far, far away, our Father recognizes His own child in us, and bounds to meet us—not saying, ‘Let him come to Me and sue for pardon first’, but Himself taking the first step.” When a child is helpless and in destitute despair, a merciful father is scanning the horizon with hope of healing.

He Loves. He longs for his son’s return. He looks for his son’s return. And, he loves his son when he returns. There is not an accounting of wrongs. There is not a time of “I told you so”. Luke reminds us, “Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20 NLT). The father’s acceptance is evident in his affection . . . he runs, he embraces and he kisses him. When the son takes the first step, his father runs the rest of the way. In his work, The Message, Peterson gives insight into Paul’s writings, “It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, He embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on His own, with no help from us!” (Eph 2:4-5 MSG)

John Ciardi writes, “Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope.”

A father’s love . . . he longs, he looks and he loves. As a dad, never give up . . . even if they’ve gone away.

For some, this may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done . . . but . . . it’s the best thing you will ever do.

Looking Inside

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. 
2 Corinthians ‭13:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

One of our favorite family movies is “The Lion King”. Now, our grands can enjoy the re-release. At one part, Simba struggles with responsibilities that are before him . . . is he strong enough? Is he able to be all that is required of him? Can he do what he is tasked to do? Mufasa’s image comes to Simba and says, “Look inside yourself, you are more than what you have become.”

At different times in our lives, we may experience comfort and ease or chaos and economic struggle. In each of these times, at every turn and at every intersection of doubt and destiny, we need to look inside to see what God is doing and how He is working in our hearts.

We are challenged to examine ourselves . . . or look inside . . . on a regular basis. Eugene Peterson in his paraphrased work, The Message, reminds us of Paul’s thoughts, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others.” (Gal 6:4 MSG)

As we look inside, we are reminded that as God touches us, we touch others. As we look in, we begin living out. Here are some thoughts on looking inside and living outside . . .

We Bless Others Because We Have Been Blessed. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:3). When we look inside at all the ways God has blessed us, we are able to be a blessing to others. Wise King Solomon reminds us, “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25)

We Love Others Because We Have Been Loved. Jesus deliverers and demonstrates love . . . He is love. We are told that we love, only because we have been first loved by God. (1 John 4:19) As we walk in this life, opportunities come before us each and every day to show love and to share the love of God. The disciple John reminds us that there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). If fear is present, love is absent. And, if love is experienced, fear has exited. Our healing can be another’s hope. Steve Maraboli writes, “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.”

We Give Because We Have Been Given. John reminds us, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (I John 3:17-18 NLT) We give . . . following the example of God. The beloved disciples writes, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”(John 3:16 MSG) He loves . . . He gives!  We love . . . we give. If we are not giving, we are not loving.

We Serve Because We Have Been Served. The heart of a believer, of a Christ-follower is seen in one who serves. Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NLT). He did not come to be served . . . but to serve . . . and He has given us that example to follow.

Inspirational writer and speaker, Israelmore Ayivor writes, “The only way to make a damaged machine work again is to break it down, work on its inner system and fix it again. Screw out the bolts of your life, examine and work on yourself, fix your life again and get going.”

Peterson gives some insight, “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out.” (2 Cor 13:5 MSG)

Give yourself a checkup. Take a look on the inside . . . Blessings . . . Loving . . . Giving . . . Serving. Through Christ, you are more than what you have become . . . test it out.

Shut My Mouth

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.
Proverbs 15:1 NLT
Words are powerful.
The carefully chosen word can calm conflict.
The wrecking word can wage war.
Words can hurt or heal.
They can agitate or they can appease.
Pearl Strachan Hurd says, “Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”
King Solomon, noted as one of the wisest men who ever lived, encourages us to use a gentle response when anger rages.  With a decisively chosen word we can divert danger.  Our objective becomes disarming anger before it becomes destructive.
It’s being as “cool as a cucumber” and not “blowing your stack”.  A few verses later, Solomon reminds us, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” (Prov 15:18 ESV). The more heated an argument, the more harsh our words can be.
We work toward a response instead of a reaction.
A Good Answer.  The wise king reminds us, “The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry”. (Prov 25:11 MSG). The good word is like “apples of gold in settings of silver”.  Choosing the correct word with a calm mind is our best consideration.  Abraham Lincoln insightfully states, “I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.”  It is a good word, not a grieving word.  It is an answer of restoration and not rejection.  Once words are used, they can’t be undone. Jodi Picoukt writes, “Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”
A Gracious Answer.  Ann Voskamp tells us, “Anger is contagious.  So is grace.”  Paul reminds us, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” (Col 4:6 NLT).  Words of grace are words of goodness.  As recipients of grace we are to reflect grace . . . in our walk, in our ways and in our words.  Solomon writes, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Prov 16:24 ESV)
A Gentle Answer.  Gill explains, “Mild words, gentle expressions, delivered with kindness and tenderness, humility and submission; these will work upon a man’s passions, weaken his resentments, and break and scatter the storm of wrath raised in his breast.”  A gentle word brings good wellness.  Proverbs tells us, “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” (Prov 15:4 NLT). Life giving words leave a lasting legacy of love.
James gives some very constructive comments, “If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile.” (Jam 1:26 NET). The psalmist grasps the great responsibility of good, gracious and gentle words.  He writes, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Ps 141:3 ESV)
Good and gentle words of grace . . . Oh, God, guard what we say.

Me or Thee?

Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Philippians 2:3-4 MSG
In his paraphrased work, Eugene Peterson illustrates Paul’s description of two choices . . . two clear options that focus on our own way or on the way of others . . . on self or on serving.  The apostle gives an example of Jesus’ surrender, submission and service.  Paul instructs that we embrace the “mind of Christ” as we engage those around us.
This strategy requires us to set aside self and serve.  Our promoting and positioning gives way to a passion for and priority of others.
Self-Promotion.  The struggle of our soul is to be selfless.  Faith requires a fight against the flesh . . . saying no to us and yes to others. Paul writes, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3 NLT).  Thinking of others before we think of ourselves is the key to kindness.  Matthew Henry reminds us, “Kindness is the law of Christ’s kingdom”.  Promoting self always means we prioritize self.  Rick Joyner writes, “We can build influence by self promotion, but God will only promote those who do not promote themselves. That which is built on self-promotion will have to be maintained by human striving.”
Self-Positioning.  The apostle gives some advice, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Phil 2:4 NLT). Seeing with clarity and compassion starts with viewing others through God’s eyes.  Brown writes, “Instead of fixing your eyes on those points in which you excel, fix them on those in which your neighbor excels you: this is true ‘humility’.”  Positioning others ahead of ourselves promotes peace.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14 NIV)
Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeye’s Chicken gives some simple, yet significant thoughts in her book, “Dare to Serve” . . .
  •     “As a leader, the most ambitious thing you will ever attempt is removing yourself from the spotlight.”
  •     “Followers appreciate humble leaders – leaders with the ability to admit mistakes, to apologize, and to be vulnerable in difficult circumstances; leaders who think of others more than themselves.”
  •     “Leaders who serve others have three core values:  human dignity, personal responsibility, and humility.”
  •     “Ambition is a problem if it is all about you.”
  •     “Other-focused leadership inspires people to thrive.  Self-focused leadership induces people to survive.”
Saint Francis gives us the following prayer of selflessness . . .
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light; 
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.  It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”
It’s not about me . . . it’s about serving instead of self.

Power Within

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
Isaiah 40:29
There are days when being weary, weak and worn out starts to win out . . . and, giving in, giving up or giving out seems to be the only way.
We face challenges everyday.  Some are small and some are staggering.
As we face these, some say we should be “committed to the cause”.
As God looks at us, He says we should be “surrendered to the Savior”.
There’s a dividing difference between commitment and surrender.
Commitment is dependent on my determination, my dedication and my drive.  It’s me getting up.
Surrender is relinquishing my rights, my responsibilities and my resources.  It’s me giving in.
Commitment means I’m doing the work.  Surrender means He’s doing the work in me.
Commitment says, “No matter what, I can.”  Surrender says, “No matter what, I can’t.”
Commitment relies on strength.  Surrender rests in weakness.
Commitment alone is lacking.  Surrendering my commitment to God is lasting.
A. W. Tozer writes, “The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven’t yet come to the end of themselves. We’re still trying to give orders, and interfering with God’s work within us.”
Isaiah understands the efforts and the emptiness of our own interference.  He instruct us that God is there for those who are worn out and He is there for those who are weak.
Renewed Strength For The Weary.  Some have been in battle so long that their determination has been depleted.  It may be hard to grasp, but this is exactly where God wants us.  A few verses later, Isaiah reminds us, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” (Is 40:31 NIV)  Our God comes along side to renew and refresh when all strength is gone.  Paul encourages us, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16 ESV)
Surrender your weariness to His renewing strength.
New Strength For The Weak.  Some never engaged in the battle because they have no strength.  Fear or failure have paralyzed many into escaping, instead of engaging.  Paul writes, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Tim 1:7 HCSB)  If you are powerless, God will give you power.  The apostle writes to the Christ followers in Phillipi, “I can do all things through Christ who empowers me.” (Phil 4:13)
Surrender your weakness to His new strength.
There are times when we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to say, we don’t know where to go or we don’t know what to think . . . I’ve been there (what am I saying . . . I’m there now).
Tommy Walker writes the following lyrics,
“When I don’t know what to do, I’ll lift my hands.
When I don’t know what to say, I’ll speak Your praise.
When I don’t know where to go, I’ll run to Your throne.
When I don’t know what to think, I’ll stand on Your truth.
When I don’t know what to do, Lord, I surrender all.”
All to Jesus, we surrender.  Let go and let God.

Do Right. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 NLT
I can’t tell you how many times I struggle with the questions, “Am I doing any good?” or “Am I pleasing God?”  The prophet Micah gives instruction to the nations of what pleases God.  It’s not sacrifice, but the heart behind the sacrifice.  Our attitudes drive our actions.
So, what is right and what does God require?  The prophet gives us some insight.
Do What Is Right.  Solomon shares, “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” (Prov 21:3)  Doing what is right promotes the passion, purpose and principles of God.  When we honor Him, we please Him.  Leonard Ravenhill writes, “If we displease God, does it matter whom we please? If we please Him does it matter whom we displease?”  Our doing starts with our being.  Paul reminds us, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Phil 4:8 NLT)
Love Mercy.  When you love something, you want to share it.  Mercy is defined as, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” Abraham Lincoln writes, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”  The prophet Hosea reminds us of the magnificence of showing mercy.  He shares, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  (Hosea 6:6)  Loving mercy is illustrated in our initial response to injustice . . . in our societies, our communities and our homes.
Mercy is a healing salve in our hurting struggles.
Mercy is compassion in our conflicts.
Mercy is grace in our grief.
Love mercy . . . show mercy . . . give mercy.
Walk Humbly With God.  James reminds us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10 NIV)  Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us . . . significant enough to experience His mercy, grace and love . . . yet willing to serve to express His mercy, grace and love. David Wells writes, “Humility has nothing to do with depreciating ourselves and our gifts in ways we know to be untrue. Even ‘humble’ attitudes can be masks of pride. Humility is that freedom from our self which enables us to be in positions in which we have neither recognition nor importance, neither power nor visibility, and even experience deprivation, and yet have joy and delight. It is the freedom of knowing that we are not in the center of the universe, not even in the center of our own private universe.”
Don’t settle on seeing yourself the way others see you . . . be satisfied with the way God sees you . . . worthy, willing and His workmanship.
Walking with God requires our communion with Him, our commitment to Him and our confidence in Him.
Walk well, my friends . . . walk well.