Father's Day...for many it’s a time for new ties, long-distance calls, Hallmark cards, and family meals. I was fortunate to have had a father who blessed me with his presence. He was always there. Football season turned into basketball season, then into track season followed by baseball season and then back to fall football again and he was always there. Even now as I pen these words my mind is flooded with memories of summer vacations, playing catch in the backyard, learning the golf swing, and a myriad of other father-son endeavors. Because he was there, life went pretty smoothly for me. His presence seems to be the common thread that was woven through my childhood experiences.
It is amazing how we go through stages in life in our relationship with our dads. Someone has said that at age four we explain, "My dad can do anything." At age seven we say, "My dad knows a lot." By age 12 we're saying, "Oh well, we can’t expect Dad to know everything." At age 14 we say, "My dad is hopelessly out of date and old-fashioned." By the time we reach 21 years of age we are saying, "What should I expect? He just doesn't understand." At age 25 we begin to say, “My dad knows a little bit but not too much." By age 30 we say, "I need to find out what Dad thinks." At age 40 we ask, "What would Dad have thought?" By the time we hit 50 we're saying, "My dad knew everything!" And, at 60 years of age we usually say, "I wish I could talk it over with Dad just one more time."
There are not a lot of role models around today. However, there’s one tucked away in the parables of our Lord who is overlooked because he gives away center stage to his two sons. He is the father in the story of the prodigal son and the older brother. There is much we can learn from him on this Father's Day. He parented his sons with an open hand, with open arms, with an open heart. Let's look at him and learn from him on this Father's Day.
We see him with an open hand saying, "I release you!"
Then He said: A certain man had two sons.
And the younger of them said to his father, “ Father, give me the portion of g oods that f alls to me.” So he divided to them his livelihood.
And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living (Luke 15:11-13)
He lets him go. James Dobson might call this “tough love.” Here’s a dad who is wise enough to know that what he puts in his child at a young age determines what he becomes later. This father in Luke 15 was obviously an example in the home and gave his sons some absolutes. Therefore, there was something against which to rebel.
Dads should not only be material providers, as important as that is. Nor, should they be only mental providers, as vital as that is. They should be moral providers.
The father in our story opened his hand to his boy and let him go when the time came. He could have refused. He could have held back the inheritance. There are times when a dad knows what's best but still lets his son go. He could have denied the request. He could have blackmailed his son with the inheritance. He could have done like many modern parents today and played the comparison game..."why can't you be like your big brother?" "What are you trying to do, break your mother’s heart?"
Here’s a dad who was prepared to stand by what he’d put in his boy from childhood. Solomon said that we are to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he’s old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Some parents hold their kids so tight that they actually end up losing them. He let him go. He did not send a servant to spy on the boy. As much as his heart was breaking, as much as he knew wrong decisions were ahead, we see him with an open hand saying, “I release you.”
Yes, he let him go but he never gave up on him. No matter how dedicated a home may be, there are seasons of disappointments which sometimes come our way. The boy left home to be free but unfortunately became a slave. The Bible tells us that “when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16). How many times does this happen when we get outside our umbrellas of authority which God has placed over us. A beautiful thing happens in the story. Verse 17 says that he “came to himself.” All those years of training had paid off. He said to himself, “This is not for me. I’ve been taught better than this.” Here we find the truth of Proverbs 22:6. The boy came to his senses and all those years of training produced their intended results. I can see the father now, constantly scanning the horizon. He never gives up. He is a model father for us on this Father’s Day because we see him first with an open hand. He was wise enough to know the way to keep his son was to let him go and the way to lose him was to hold him tight.
We see him with open arms saying, “I receive you!” Luke 15:20-24
And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
And the son said to him, “ Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.
And bring the fatted calf here 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.”
We all know the story well. The boy comes to himself and heads home. “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” He ran to meet him with open arms. The boy came walking but the father came running! His love had been tough enough to release him and now it was tender enough to receive him. The boy begins his speech but he never gets to give it. The father is full of forgiveness. We see him with open arms. There were no crossed arms here. No pointed fingers nor clinched fists. There was no cross examination of where he’d been nor were there any “I told you so’s.” There were simply open arms.
The Bible says the father had “compassion” (Luke 15:20). This word means “to suffer with.” Here was a dad who knew what the boy was going through. The boy came home with hopes of only being a hired servant but was received as an honored son.
One of the beautiful things of the story is that not only did the father receive him and forgive him but he did not hold a grudge. He could have said, “Welcome home, I’ll forgive you but you’ve got a lot of proving to do.” Now, this does not mean that restoration should be without parameters. We’re not talking about a boy here who came back with the same rebellious spirit with which he left nor are we talking about a boy who simply was sorry he got caught. His boy returned home different.
Here was a son who had shown true repentance. First, this boy regretted his deed. “He came to himself and said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger” (Luke 15:17). Next, he took responsibility and blamed himself for his actions. He was prepared to say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (Luke 15:18). Next, he acknowledged his father’s right to be displeased with him. He says, “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” Then, he resolved to sin no more. The scripture goes on to say that “He arose and came to his father.” In verse 17 he changed his mind. The result was in verses 18 and 19 he changed his heart. And in verse 20 his actions were changed. This is the way to repentance. It begins with a change of attitude which always results in a change of affection which then results in a change of action. “He arose and came to his father.”
What a beautiful picture we have of this loving father. We see him with open arms receiving his son. Some relationships are strained because some will not accept the offending person’s repentance. However, the Bible says that “love does not take into account a wrong suffered.” Here we see a beautiful picture of our heavenly Father. How thankful we are that God does not deal with us according to our sin but according to His tender mercy when we come home to Him in genuine repentance.
Look at this model father. We see him with an open hand saying, “I release you.” We see him with open arms saying, “I receive you.” Finally:
We see him with an open heart saying, “I respect you!” (Luke 15:25-32)
Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.”
But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
So he answered and said to his father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.”
And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”
The most notable characteristic of this dad was his presence, his transparency. He was there for his boys. No matter what either of their problems seemed to be, they had one thing in common, their father’s presence. The most valuable gift he gave his sons was his presence. He showed his sons respect and opened his heart to them.
Here was a dad who reminds us on this Father’s Day of the importance of keeping things in perspective. Once the party began with its celebration of the return of the prodigal boy we find his older brother was angry and would not go into the party. When his father came out to meet him with an open heart the older son complained that he had been faithful all those years and had never been given “a young goat” that he might be merry with his own friends. It is interesting that they were killing the fatted calf for the party. To sulk about a goat at a time like that was sheer folly. The older brother had lost all sense of proportion. How fortunate he was to have had a father who was focused and who came to him with an open heart.
Can you picture the scene? The party is going on and the festivities are at a high point. But where is dad? He is outside with an open heart assuring the wounded older son of three important things. His abiding presence. He said, “Son, you’re always with me” (Luke 15:31). He was assuring him of his abundance provision, “all that I have is yours” (Luke 15:31). And with an open heart he also was assuring him of his own achieved purpose. “Your brother was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32).
We do not know how the story ends. Did the older boy go into the party? Did he remain outside? We simply do not know. Perhaps the Lord Jesus left the issue shrouded in silence so that you could complete the story today.
I want to be a father like the dad we find in Luke 15. Here was a man with an open hand. He was wise enough to know that the way to keep his kids when they mature is to let them go. Here was a man with open arms. He was always ready to make a way for new beginnings. Here was a father with an open heart. He was transparent and encouraging and blessed his sons with his presence.
Everything this father tells us about fatherhood comes to a very interesting point. There may be someone reading these words who has not known a dad with an open hand or open arms or an open heart. The good news is our Lord said, “I will be a father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters” (II Cor. 6:18). The real message on this Father’s Day is about our heavenly Father. He is a loving father with an open hand. He lets us go. We’re not puppets, we’re people. Thus, He lets us go because the love we can voluntarily return to Him is indescribably valuable to Him. He may let us go but He never gives up! He is a loving father with open arms and never were those arms open wider than when they were on the cross. He is a loving father with an open heart. He opened it for all of us at Calvary when He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him!
Yes, perhaps our Lord left the end of the story as He did without our ever knowing whether the elder brother went into the party in order that we might complete the story today. When we do we will find a loving heavenly father not only with an open hand and open heart, but with open arms to receive us.