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The Heart of the Father, Part 6

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Luke 15:20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 

Last time we looked at the younger son's Far Country Experience. And we left off when the son decided to return to his Father. He finally came to his senses and realized that "being a servant in the Father's house is infinately greater than anything outside the Father's house". So the son comes to his senses (v. 17) he decides to return to the Father. But he is willing to take a low place. He is willing to say: "Father, I don't deserve your to be called your son any longer. But please, at least, allow me to live here and serve you. I'll earn my way back into your house."

That's the mindset of the son as he returns. However, he is in for a surprise. 

Luke 15:20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 

Can you imagine what must have gone on in the mind of this young man? We don't know how long he was out there in the far country, but it must have been months, at least. Maybe even years. This young man was probably thinking about the Father's reaction the whole journey. He must have asked himself questions like "How will my Father react? What if He sends me away immediately? What if He doesn't even listen to what I would like to say? What if He doesn't accept me as a servant? Will He just scream at me for everyone to hear and notice, and I bring more shame upon myself?"

That's certainly what I would have been thinking. But in the midst of all this, while he was still a long way off, the son is in for a surprise. His Father has been waiting for him. And not just waiting, the Father has been longing for him. The Father has been looking all around His estate for any sign of the son to return. The Father has been longing for the son to the extend that he was looking out for the son day and night. There was nothing more important for the Father than to wait for the return of His son. He probably knew how beaten up the son would be out there. He probably knew what kind of doubts and questions would be going on in the son's heart and mind. And so the Father said: "I'm doing everything I can to be there for my son. I'll look for him, I'll pray for him, I'll keep watch, I'll walk around the estate so I can look in every possible direction. But as soon as there is the slightest sign of my son's return, I'll be there for him, and I'll make sure that he doesn't even have a second to doubt whether I will receive him back."

So the Father does the most outrageous thing:

  • He is filled with compassion
  • He runs towards the son
  • He fell on his neck
  • And He kissed him

We have to understand the context. This son has brought incredible shame and bad reputation on the Father. He wasted half of the Father's posessions. The Father would have every right to rebuke and lecture him publicly, in front of everybody to see. But instead the Father does some scandalous things. Masters don't run. It's inappropriate for the owner of an estate to run in public. And remember where the son just came from? He was just feeding the pigs. He was dirty. He was smelly, he was probably extremely thin from hunger. This son was EVERYTHING the Father was not. 

But the Father doesn't care about his own reputation. So He simply goes to this dirty, stinky and messy son and just embraces and kisses him. 

Do you realize how undignified the Father's actions were? In front of everybody to see? If he was appropriate, he would have taken the son into the house first, cleaned him up, and then restored him, in private. But not so this Father. His heart longs so much for His son that He would do ANYTHING it takes to immediately restore him. 

But the son isn't convinced yet. He still has his speech to give, right? 

Luke 15:21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight, and am no more worthy to be called your son. 

But the Father doesn't even allow him to complete his speech. He immediately and completely restores him right there, right then: The Father gives him three things:

  • The robe, which is a symbol of the family identity. By putting on the robe, the Father is saying: "You're not a servant. You're my son!"
  • The ring, which is a symbol of the authority. By giving the son the ring, the Father is saying: "I give you all the authority back that you had before you left. You are my son, and you have all authority over this place that I have!"
  • The shoes, which is a symbol of the posessions. Hence, the Father is saying: "You lost everything, but now that you are back, everything I have is yours again!"

Incredible. The son is completely restored. But the Father is not yet finished.

Luke 15:23-24 And bring here the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 

Unbelievable. The son is completely restored, simply by returning to the estate. No questions asked, no probation, no "are you sorry for what you did?" The Father just completely restores him, as if nothing had happened.

Does that mean that the Father doesn't care about the son's actions? Is He just saying: "Well, let's just forget about it. Let's not talk about it any longer. Let's just move on!"

I don't think so! I think the Father very well remembers what has happened. And I personally believe that one day, the Father will have a talk with the son. I believe one day the Father will call in the son and say: "You know, remember the time you left? Let's talk about it. I want to know what happened to you, how it affected you. And I want to make sure you don't leave again!" I am absolutely convinced that the Father will have this talk with the son one day.

But here's the key: Restoration comes first, dealing with the past comes later. The Father knows perfectly that at this moment, the son could not deal with his shame and guilt. If the Father wanted to talk with the son at this moment about his past, the son could probably not cope with it. The result would be that in the son's shame, he would probably condemn himself in his mind (e.g. "I really shouldn't be treated like this, let me just be a servant, as I originally planned"). Or he would even leave again ("I really don't deserve to be here any longer.") Any focus on the son's guilt and shame would push the son away from the Father, either emotionally, or even physically.

And the Father knows that. The Father knows that before the son can deal with his guilt and shame, he has to be absolutely sure that

  • he is forgiven
  • he is restored
  • he is loved
  • he is accepted

The Father knows that first He has to restore the son's identity. And once that identity is fully settled, and the son knows 100% in his heart and mind that he is forgiven and accepted, THEN he can deal with his past. And I believe that's exactly what the Father is doing here. First He restores the son. He does everything He can to restore him to his true identity. He does everything possible to expose the lies of the enemy, the distorted identity the son feels about himself. 

And once all that is dealt with, THEN the Father can start dealing with the son's guilt and shame. 

 

Unfortunately, I believe the church has often not been very good in this area. We are supposed to reflect to the world who the Father is. And we are supposed to rejoice over every single person who shows the slightest sign of returning to God. But instead we sometimes do the opposite. And we try to deal with people's guilt and shame first, trying to people to "confess all their past and all their sins" first before we allow them to "come in and celebrate". And the outcome can be tragic. Because the result could be exactly the opposite of what God wants. And also the opposite of what we want. 

Think whether you ever personally experienced or observed a situation like this:

  • A man with lots of tatoos comes into the church. The church's first reaction is to be "suspicious" and let this man proove himself first, before we truly accept him in our community.
  • An unmarried couple is showing PDA to each other. Such sinful behavior is not tolerated in our church, so we tell them they are not welcome here.
  • A man has stolen some money 10 years earlier in his life. So the church decides that "he has to sit in a separate room, all by himself, to protect the rest of the flock, until he has proven himself".

Now I'm not saying we shouldn't be wise. Of course, if a man has been arrested for sexually assaulting young children 2 months ago, then don't make him a Sunday School teacher. Or if a man has stolen a purse from the person sitting next to him during the service last week, then of course it's wise to tell that person to sit by himself. So I'm not talking about "subjecting the flock to obvious danger".

And of course there is such a thing as church discipline. A church has the authority and responsibility to tell an unrepentant divisive person to not come back. (Titus 3:10 A man that is divisive after the first and second admonition reject; ). 

But what I am talking about is not so much "people who call themselves Christians and continually do something bad at church".

What I'm talking about are seekers who come to church looking for healing and restoration. Unfortunately I have to say, too often we get the order wrong. We are telling people that "in order to be a Christian and to be accepted by the church (and therefore: to be accepted by God) you have to do A, B, C and D first, and you have to stop doing W, X, Y and Z". We point at people's guilt and shame, tell them that they need to clean up their mess first, before they can come into the house. 

But the Father's way is different. He says: "Come into the house first. You are welcome here. I'll love you, I'll restore you, I'll share all my riches with you. And the sin, the guilt, the shame and the things you did wrong in the past,... we'll talk about that later. First, I need you to know that you are a new creation. You are loved, you are forgiven, you are restored, and you have a new identity in me! And once you embrace that, you'll look at your past in a total different light. And THEN we can talk about it."

 

Where are you at right now? Are you filled with guilt and shame, wondering whether God will accept you back? The answer is yes! Put yourself in the shoes of this younger son, on his journey back home. And then allow yourself to be surprised by the response of the Father.

Are you still in the Far Country, wondering what would happen if you chose to come home? Then have the courage and approach God in prayer. And allow Him to embrace you, in all your guilt and shame. And see how His love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8 And above all things have fervent love among yourselves: for love shall cover a multitude of sins.)

Or are you leading others? Are you representing the Father's love for others? Do you allow people to "just come in" and experience the goodness of God? Of course some will take advantage of it. Of course some will just enjoy the "warm fuzzy feeling" of being loved by God, but they will never be willing to pay the price later on. Of course some will be a burden to your church, as you spend time, money and energy trying to disciple them, with no results. Are you willing to do what the Father did, take the risk and embrace the most unlovable people? 

Or are you judgemental, setting a high bar before people first, before they are accepted? Telling people that "first you need to do X before I start investing in you, allowing you to join our community"?

Are you truly an Ambassador of Christ? (2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God.)

It's funny that in the midst of this series on the Father's Heart, the LGBT discussion has been taken to a whole new level. I plan on writing a whole separate blog about this topic next.

But here's the simple answer, how Christians have to respond to this huge challenge the church is facing today: Love people. Embrace them. Let them experience the goodness of Christ. And let the Holy Spirit be the one convicting them over time that God's design for marriage is still the same: One man and one woman, making a lifetime commitment before God and each other. Everything else is a distortion of God's design and has all kinds of consequences.

But let's not focus on that first. Let's be true Ambassadors of Christ. Let's love people. Let's embrace people in the church, like the Father received back the returning son. And leave it up to the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sin. In His time!



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