As we are in the season of baseball, hot dogs and family vacations, and since this is Father’s Day, I thought I would share with you a story I read in an issue of Focus on the Family Magazine about a young man who appreciates his role as a father.
Tim Burke was a major league pitcher for the Montreal Expos. With potentially a number of baseball years still ahead of him, he retired at the age of thirty-three. The question, of course, is why?
Tim and his wife Christine could have no children. Over time, they were led to adopt four Korean children, all with special needs. As Tim realized the demands this put on his wife to be “mother, father, doctor, mover, plumber, secretary, etc.”, he decided he would give up the game he loved in order to be a major league dad and a major league husband.
Christine was particularly moved by her husband’s decision for a number of reasons: she knew how much he loved baseball, but realized through this decision how much he loved God, her, and their children. Christine was especially touched by Tim’s dedication to their children because her father had left before she was born. She had never known a father’s unconditional love. Her husband’s decision, although a puzzlement to numerous baseball fans, was to them a clear decision to be there for their family. It stands as an excellent example of good decision-making in the midst of a society in which family values are in decline.
Turn your attention to another effective father whose decision to be there is crucial to our understanding of God’s intentions for the Christian father today.
The plight of the prodigal son is a familiar biblical story that has been repeated for the benefit of many young people throughout the ages and surely is repeated today. The primary message of this parable is, of course, that the prodigal “came to himself” — that is, repented of his sin and thus was restored in his relationship with his family. But did you ever consider/wonder what may have happened to this young prodigal if his father had not been waiting in the pathway as he made those last humbling steps toward home? Let us concentrate on just one verse of scripture, Luke 15:20. It appears to me that three of the phrases in this verse provide sound wisdom for the man of God who desires to be an effective father.
The first phrase is, “But while he was still far off.” Reading through this parable a number of times, I got the distinct feeling that this father, although loving his son enough to “let go,” never stopped praying until his son’s safe return. You see, the rather could have said to himself, “That unappreciative brat! He took my money and went; well, now he’s on his own. I wash my hands of him. My responsibility is over.” Yet that is not what we see here. Instead we see a father preparing for his son’s return as he waits for the Holy Spirit to touch the heart of the young prodigal.
What do you do when your children are “far off”? That can range from being away at college to not living up to your expectations, or to God’s expectations for them, to making home life chaotic because of their rebellion against authority, to growing up faster than necessary, to a lack of appreciation for all you do on their behalf. What do you do?
The advice we receive from this parable from the lips of Jesus is to “be there.” The prodigal’s father did not give up; he exercised patience; he was able to wait on the Lord. That can only happen if that father has a close and ongoing relationship with the Lord Himself. Is that true of you? Do you have a personal relationship with Christ that enables you to trust God eternally as well as daily?
Tim Burke’s close relationship with the Lord enabled him to make what others would have considered a crazy decision. In the parable, a pre-established relationship with God enabled the father to literally wait in the pathway until his son would come to his senses through the power of God. Those of you who have been through those moments with sons or daughters know that it requires spiritual staying power. If you are going through that at this moment, I would encourage you to trust God and seek His face daily in prayer. Those who may one day be in the position of the prodigal father are wise if they establish a spiritual foundation while it is easier to do so.
And then beyond his ability to wait, our text tells us that the prodigal’s father was filled with compassion: his mercy was like the mercy of God. Imagine having your temper or need to get retribution so in check that you could only demonstrate mercy and compassion. Do you realize that one of the reasons why there are so many dysfunctional adults running around today is because they’ve never heard the words “I love you” or “You’re forgiven” from a compassionate Christian father? It happens because (1) a father abdicates by leaving a marriage or his role as a father; (2) it happens because a father has never experienced God’s forgiveness himself, therefore forgiving others, particularly his own children, becomes insurmountable; (3) it happens because the models he had growing up were negative or, worse yet, abusive.
Consider what you want your children to remember you most for. If you’re going to err on one side of the paternal ledger, it seems to me that compassion and caring is the side on which to err. What did Jesus do? Did He spend more time caring for and loving His disciples, or chastising them?
Luke 15:20 tells us that included in this father’s forgiveness was a ready response. The text says, “He put his arms around him and kissed him.” Do you think the prodigal knew he was forgiven? You bet he did! The festival that followed was icing on the cake, but his father left no room for doubt that he loved and forgave his son as immediately he put his arms around him and hugged him. Many fathers still need to know that a hug given at the right time beats a new bicycle or a new glove or an iPod every time. Many modern-day parents try to buy their children’s affection or respect when, in many cases, a little verbal and physical affirmation is all that is required. Do you think there is any significance to the fact that one of the last things Jesus did before He went to the cross was to wash His disciples feet? I think it was His way of hugging them and telling them that they were forgiven and that He wanted them to forgive others.
Some fathers say, “Beyond being the recipient of a new tie, or being envisioned by my children as merely a provider or a disciplinarian, I would like to be an effective father. I would like my children to love me.” Fathers, let me ask you, how much do you love God? Do you love God enough to let that love fall upon your children? Do you love in the manner that Tim Burke loved? Do you love with a willingness to give up in order to get? Do you love like the prodigal’s father?

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