Good evening - that's a bit of a lacklustre response! Good evening! That's better! It's good to be here with you again - but it really is a delight to return. It doesn't often happen, I have to say. I say to folk that I go to an awful lot of places once, but it's nice to be invited back! I obviously didn't offend you too much last time, I must have done my job right! But it is really nice to renew fellowship with you all, and I'm looking forward and I'm excited in my heart about what God is going to do this week as we meet with Him. Thank you for the invitation and for the welcome, and I'm looking forward to what the Lord is going to do in our midst this week as we look at 'The Father Heart of God'.
I want you to turn with me in your Bibles to Luke chapter 15. I'll be in Luke chapter 15 a lot of the week, not every night, but several of the nights we will be looking at the parable of what has come to be known as 'The Prodigal Son'. Now, I have to say that I'm not fond of that title, because as we will see a little bit later on, the parable isn't about the son, it's about the father. As we look into the Father's Heart this week, we're going to, I believe, get a great revelation of what is in God's heart toward us. I have to say to you - and I suppose every preacher wants to say this because he wants to excite people and enthuse them - but I believe this week, if you hang in there, I believe it will change your life. I'm not over-egging it, I believe that this week, if you get the truth of what Scripture teaches and what the Holy Spirit is revealing in these days afresh to people, it will transform your Christian life. So will you come with me? Will you journey with me tonight and throughout the week as we look into 'The Father Heart of God'?
We will read from verse 11 of Luke chapter 15, and I'm reading from the New King James Version: "Then Jesus said: 'A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls 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", or wasteful, "living. But 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. But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants''. 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. 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''".
Perhaps we could pray together as we come to God's word. Now, please, I want you to enter in with me now in prayer, would you do that? Sometimes we just let the fellow at the front, who we think is paid to do it, pray - it's not like that. We're coming to God now, we are meant to be meeting with God, and this is my desire for this week: that we would have an encounter with the Living God in this place. You have needs, and I have needs, but the greatest of them all is: we need to meet the Lord afresh. So will you come with me, and will you pray a prayer to that end, and say: 'Lord, speak to me'? Would you do that? 'Lord, speak to me; Lord, meet me at the point of my need; reveal Yourself to me; reveal Your Father heart to me' - I believe He's going to do that, but it's important that we attune our hearts to Him, and we are open, we are welcoming to what He's going to do. So let's pray together.
Holy Father, we thank You that we can come to You as Abba Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, we just ask now that You would, by Your grace, open the eyes of our hearts that we may see You the way You really are - by the power of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus' name, that You would reveal Your Father heart to us as Your children. Lord, whatever misunderstandings or misconceptions, whatever has happened to us in life, whatever we have been mis-taught, Lord we pray that today and this week that You will just dispel it all by giving us a revelation of Yourself the way You truly are. So, Lord, we know You are here with us, but Lord, we welcome You in a greater capacity. Broaden our hearts to receive more of You, we pray, and we invite You to come by the power of the Holy Spirit: come Lord Jesus, come Holy Spirit, we welcome You here to have Your way. May Your glory fall in this place, and may Your presence fill this room. May we know that we are here, saturated by God. Lord, there are wounds that some people don't even know are there deep down in our hearts that we have pressed down for many a year, Lord, would You please - not for the purpose of distress, but for the purpose of healing and deliverance - would You bring them to the surface that You might deal with them. We thank You that our Lord Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, and by His stripes we are healed. Come now we pray, and help me Lord, in Jesus' name, Amen.
Well, our title is 'The Father Heart of God' - and if you want a subtitle, it would be 'Transforming Truths From Abba's Heart - Abba Father's Heart - To Yours' - and we will find out later in the week what the word 'Abba', the designation 'Abba Father', actually means. But tonight we're going to look - and this is really my heading for this evening - at how Father's Heart 'Beats With The Rhythm Of Grace', Father's Heart beats with the rhythm of grace. Luke 15, as I said earlier, is not about the prodigal son - actually it mentions in verse 11 that a certain man had two sons - and so often we focus on what we know as the prodigal, and we forget about this older brother. We're going to spend a whole night on him probably on Thursday night - but there are two sons here, but it's not about the sons.
The parable is about the father, and I would rather title it: 'The Parable Of Abba's Heart'. The reason is, the context that we find leading into this chapter - if you look at verses 1 to 3, let's read it, of chapter 15 of Luke: 'Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him', to Jesus, 'to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, 'This Man receives sinners and eats with them'. So He spoke this parable to them' - and then He begins by telling the parable of the hundred sheep, and one was lost; then He tells the parable about the lady who had ten silver coins on a wedding garment on her head, a headdress, and she lost one and she searched until she found what was lost; and then we have the parable of the lost son. So there are these three 'lost' parables that Jesus tells - why? He tells them in response to these accusations coming from the religious Pharisees, the highbrow Jews who were hyper about the laws of God and that the Jewish people would not transgress them. They were, not to put too fine a point on it, scandalised by the behaviour of Jesus.
Now it's hard for us to appreciate how aghast they were, and often we don't really understand the scandal of this grace - 'scandalon' is a Greek term that is used for it - at how Jesus was fraternising with what they considered in every term, whether it was religious, social, or civil, as the scum of the earth - the untouchables of society. You look at these verses: Jesus receives sinners, verse 2, and He actually eats with them! That was unthinkable! But what was Jesus showing? Why does He tell these three parables about three lost things? Very simply - and we could spend ages on it, but it's very easy to give the answer - He was showing that God's heart is for the lost. That's tremendous! To realise that our God is not - as is portrayed often by legalistic religion and fundamentalism - our God is not distant, He is not untouchable by ordinary people, but in fact as Jesus reveals the heart of Father God, He is towards the sinner! He is for the lost! His heart beats with the rhythm of grace.
But let's not run ahead of ourselves, we're going to be spending all week about that - but we need to appreciate and sympathise a wee bit with the Pharisees, because you know they weren't just grumps. They weren't grumpy old men, they weren't folk that just had personality problems, and couldn't get on with people, and were particularly negative and pessimistic - no, you see they had Scripture for this - that's right! They had Scripture for their objection to the behaviour of Jesus. Let me show you, turn with me to Deuteronomy 21 - I assume you have your Bible with you, if you don't it would be good if you'd bring it, because you'll need to flick up a number of verses we're going to be moving around tonight and other nights. Deuteronomy 21, and I have to say I read books on the Fatherhood of God, and books on the prodigal son, and it never mentions this portion of Scripture - but this is actually the foundation for the Pharisee's objection to what Jesus was doing. I want you, before we read it, I want you to ask yourself the question: do I see any parallels here to any of these three parables that Jesus told? It's obvious - this is called 'the law of the rebellious son' - verse 18 of Deuteronomy 21: 'If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard'. Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear'.
Now, we might ask the question: what Mum and Dad would do the likes of this? But that's not the issue here, this is the law of God - we don't know how often, if at all, this happened - but the fact of the matter is, this is what God's law says this sin of rebellion deserves. So these Jewish Pharisees knew this inside out, and they thought Jesus was so ignorant in the fact that He was mixing with rebellious sons and daughters. He was touching lepers, He was receiving expressions of devotion and affection from prostitutes kissing His feet! Are you feeling the outrage now? I mean, let's try and put ourselves in these guy's shoes - they had honest motivation, they were trying to bring their lives into plumbline with what they thought God had said. And really, had they got it wrong here? We would say 'No, they had got it dead right'. When they look at the behaviour of Jesus, they say: 'There is a contradiction here! This cannot be - God's word says this, and Jesus is doing that, and He's claiming to be the Messiah, the Anointed of God, He's claiming to represent God and reveal God - but that cannot be! God wouldn't do that!'. Did you ever hear that? Just as a digression - did you ever hear people say that? They are usually very biblically literate: 'God would never do that!'. They hear about something happening in a church: 'God would never do that!'. Be careful to assume that you should know everything that God would and would not do.
But we have to sympathise with these Pharisees, at their sense of scandal and apparent contradiction in Jesus' behaviour. This would be our conclusion too, the conclusion of the Pharisees, if we don't understand the heart and the mind of God - and can I say this please: it is not always synonymous, interpretation of Scripture and the heart and mind of God. Now that's a very deep statement, and I haven't got time to go into it all, but hopefully by the end of the week you will understand that you can know the Bible intricately, but not know the heart of God intimately. Without knowing Him intimately, what happens is: you misapply the word of God. You've got to understand the heart and mind of God. Many people today, Christians in church this very evening, are confused in their relationship with God and His word, and they are confused for the same reason that the Pharisees were confused by the scandalous behaviour of Jesus. This is why: they have not understood the role that law plays in the Bible. Do I need to repeat that? People are confused in their relationship with God and His word because they have not understood what the law of God is for - and that's why many Christians are living under the law of God. I meet them regularly.
But the fundamental issue in understanding the message of God in the Bible is what the purpose of law is, what part does law play. It's very important, I mean the first five books of the Bible are about law, the Ten Commandments are a summary of the law of God. It is God's law, it is communicated from His mouth, His mind, and His heart - but what is the purpose of it? The answer again is simple: the law is for nothing other than to show us our sin. Now, let me not complicate things this week - and I can complicate things, not because I'm clever, clever people make things plain - let me try and make things plain. Read the book of Romans, read the book of Galatians, and you will discover God's purpose in the giving of His laws. It's not a standard to live by, it's not a code of merit that we have to keep, by which we earn God's favour. In fact, here's what both Romans and Galatians will teach you - a crash course on Romans and Galatians is this: the law of God makes us lawbreakers. It tells us what sin is, and because it becomes the law, we are now lawbreakers through breaking the law. Paul tells us it actually enflames sin within us, it stirs it up. It's like telling a child: 'Don't steal that cookie!' - and what happens? You tell it not to do a thing, and something within them is stirred up to want to do it. That's what the law of God does for us as sinners.
Paul also teaches us, particularly Paul, that the law brings a curse with it. Did you know that? Read the book of Galatians, we will look at it a little bit tonight. Also it tells us that the law brings condemnation of death, and we saw that from Deuteronomy 21. So that means, Christian, if you're living under law - OK? You have a legalistic faith - you live, in other words, trying to obey a set of rules, doing certain good things and not doing certain bad things, you potentially are becoming a bigger sinner. Sin is not getting controlled, but it's getting more in control of you because the law stirs things up within your sinful nature. It is more than likely that you feel cursed, you feel condemned, and there is death upon you. You see, God's law was not given as a ten rung ladder to get us to heaven - it never was! It was given, rather, as a mirror so that we would look at what God's standards are, and we would see that we fall far short of them.
Now don't misunderstand me, God's word says that God's law is good, it's perfect in essence - but its purpose is not to make us perfect, its purpose is purely to show us that we are sinners and we desperately need grace. I hope you've got that, and if you haven't got that, you need to get it! You really do! Look at Deuteronomy 21 again, I hope you're still there - look at the penalty of death that is prescribed here at the end of the law of the rebellious son, verse 22: 'If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God'.
The Pharisees had a genuine dilemma, they are confused, there is apparent contradiction in the behaviour of Jesus and what the law of God says - how can this conundrum be solved? How can they get a solution to their legal dilemma? Turn with me to Galatians chapter 3, Galatians 3 - remember how that law of the rebellious son ended, he is stoned to death and his corpse is taken and hanged upon a tree - look at verse 13 of Galatians 3: 'Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written" - where? Deuteronomy 21 - "'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree')". Are you getting it? Are you joining the dots? God's law is good, it is perfect, it is God's standard, it is what He requires - and yet it's what we cannot give, because we are weak in the flesh, that's why we need grace, we need a Saviour, and in Jesus we get grace. He is hanged on a tree, He becomes a curse for the law that we have broken, He dies the penalty of condemnation to death, so that we might go free.
You see, Jesus knew what He was going to do. In fairness to the Pharisees, they didn't know, they didn't understand this. But, you see, you don't know everything - no matter how much you know the Bible, you don't know everything, what we need to get is attuned to the heart of God which beats with the rhythm of grace. It is through the goggles of grace, if you like, that we must interpret the word of God. So I am always very fearful of legalistic interpretations of the Bible; of interpretations of the Bible that hammer people, rather than liberate people; of interpretations of the Bible that harm them, and restrict them, and bind them, rather than heal them, deliver them, and set them free. Don't misunderstand me: the Bible has some hard things to say, some very harsh things - but when we understand that the heartbeat of God is grace, not law, we can really understand His plan and His purpose and the message of the Bible. Many Christians' expression of faith is very legalistic, because they have no conception of the heart of God, they are people of the book - but unlike David, they are not men and women after God's own heart - that's what we need to be! They have never understood that the heartbeat of God is grace.
This is the way the Pharisees were, it was a performance-based relationship with God. They knew what the Bible said about sin, but they didn't understand the heartbeat of grace toward sinners - and so they are aghast when Jesus claims to reveal the Father, and He is touching lost people. Now, let me ask you a question - and this is a diagnostic question, and it will help you the rest of this week: have you got God all wrong? Have you got God all wrong? Or, to put it another way, what is your conception of God? Or, to put another slant on that question, does your idea of God come from Moses or does it come from Jesus Christ? Or to put it another way: is it legalistic, or is it grace-filled? This can be the reason for so much of our confusion - and you do hear people say today: 'I'm so confused, I hear so many people say so many things. You get these hard preachers, and they're really demanding this of me, and 'you need to pull your socks up, and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and you're not doing this right, and you need to do this', blah-blah-blah, and I go away feeling condemned. Then there are these other ones who tell you, 'Oh, God is always happy with you, and you can never do anything to annoy God or make Him angry''. Then there are so many gods in the world, there is a plethora of deities, and we are more open now to hearing what other people believe in our world - and many can be confused. Different ideas, different gods and concepts, and even within Christianity different expressions of faith - well, let's keep it simple.
Here's how to keep it simple, turn with me to John 14 verse 7, Jesus is speaking to the disciples, the early disciples and He says in John 14:7: 'If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him. Philip said to Him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us''. I think there was a little bit of frustration there in Philip, he's getting exasperated - parables, teachings, and all this stuff - and he says: 'Just show us God, and that will do, we'll be happy. Just show us the Father!'. Listen to what Jesus says, verse 9: 'Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?'. 'He who has seen Me has seen the Father', or 'To see Me is to see the Father'. So this is how we understand God: Jesus came to reveal the heart of God - this is what's going on in the New Testament, in the Gospels in particular! The Jews had got a legalistic understanding of who God was. Yes, He had given them the law, but the law does not define God, it defines us! But now Jesus is coming, and He is in complete contradiction to everything that they believed in their religious psyche, and they don't recognise God when He shows up in human flesh. They know the book, but they don't recognise God Himself incarnate.
So, if you want to know what God's like, look at Jesus. It doesn't matter what any denomination, any preacher, any sect, or cult, or religious philosophy or belief says - all you need to do is look at Jesus, 'Whoever has seen Me, has seen the Father'. So it's vital that you get God right, because it will affect everything. It will affect you. Here's one of the reasons why it will affect you, and how it will affect you - listen to this: you become like the God you worship. Do you know that? You become like the God you worship. Let me show you this from Scripture, keep a marker there in Luke 15, the prodigal, and turn with me to Psalm 115 - and Psalm 135 is like this as well, but we'll just look at this one, Psalm 115 - verse 3: 'But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; Noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them'. Do you see that? What is a false conception of God? Well, it's a false god, an idol - and idolatry affects you - what you believe affects the way that you behave. What it's actually saying here is that if you worship false conception of God, if it's an idol of wood, stone, or precious metals, and it has eyes but it cannot see, you're going to have a problem seeing into spiritual things; it has ears but it cannot hear, you're going to have problems hearing from God. You're going to have problems acting correctly, because this thing that you're worshipping has hands that don't move and feet that don't walk. There are a lot of 'Christians' today who have a conceptualisation of God that is wrong: He is a figure in history, but He's not doing too much these days - and do you know what happens? We don't do too much to break through for God today either.
You become like the God you worship, and so that's why you need to get God right. Turn with me to Galatians, keeping a marker in Luke 15, Galatians - you see why you're going to need your Bible! Galatians 3, and this is reiterating what I've said. Verse 24: 'Therefore the law was our tutor', our schoolmaster, our instructor, 'to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith'. That's what the law is for, to set us in the right direction, it's not an end in itself - but these Galatians were returning to the law, they were going back, and Paul was having to say: 'No, you're making a mistake, you're becoming slaves again when you're meant to be sons'. Look at chapter 4 and verse 10: 'You observe days and months and seasons and years', look at verse 9, 'After you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?'. Another translation puts it: 'You turn to the miserable forces', the margin of the NIV says, 'principalities', and principles. You've left, you've been converted and transformed by grace from legalism, from dead religion, but why is it that you're now turning back to observe days and months and seasons and years, religious rituals?
See how this affected these Galatians, look down at verse 15 of chapter 4: 'What then was the blessing you enjoyed?' - I think it's the NIV, or maybe an old edition of the NIV, translates that 'What has happened to all your joy?'. What has happened to your joy? At the end of verse 15 it says: 'For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me' - now, some infer that maybe Paul had bad eyesight, and they were such compassionate people and full of the joy of the Lord that they would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to the Apostle Paul at one time - but they had lost their joy, because with law comes a curse and the condemnation of death. What they were experiencing is: they were starting to worship a false conception of a legalistic God, and it affected their joy in Jesus Christ. They used to be generous and joyous, but they became like the God they worshipped.
Look at verses 4 through to 7 of Galatians 4: 'But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem', to buy back, 'those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!'. Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ'. You were slaves, but now you're meant to have the Spirit of God's Son, the Spirit of adoption, by which Jesus cries out within you: 'Abba, Father!'. In other words, we are meant to have a father-child relationship with God, not a slave-master relationship.
So, how do you relate to God? Do you have a father-child relationship, or a master-slave? Now, let's look back at the prodigal as we bring things to a close. Luke chapter 15 again, and this is really just setting us up in introduction for the rest of the week. Look at the prodigal and verse 19 - he had hit rock bottom, he had wasted the inheritance he took from his father, joined himself to certain people, and they had let him down. Now he's in the pigpen wanting to fill his belly with the pig swill, but not even able to do that. In verse 18 he decides he's going to get up and go back home, and he says: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you', verse 19, 'and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants'. Now I envisage this in the contemporary sense today, it would be as if he were standing in front of the mirror - and there was no mirror in the pigpen, that's for sure, it's just as well, if he had seen himself! But imagine him practising this spiel that he's going to say to his father who he has let down: 'Father, I'm no longer worthy to be called your son. Just make me like one of your hired servants'. The son had sinned so devastatingly, and abused the love of his father, that he thought he could only expect to be like a hired servant at home. He had burned his bridges, he had wrecked them, so he couldn't walk in and expect to be a son again.
But, you see, we need to see Father as he really is, and that's what this prodigal son needed to see. We will find out later on during the week that the father didn't even let him get out the words 'Make me as one of your hired servants', till he calls the servants to get a robe and put it on him, and a ring, and to kill the fatted calf. You see, God was going to establish him again as a son - that's the way the Father is. But look quickly at the other son in verse 29, he wasn't relating to God as a son to a father. He hears the commotion and the celebration in the house, because the prodigal had come home, and he asks a servant: 'What's going on?'. He hears that the prodigal had returned and his father had killed the fatted calf, and this is the response - the elder brother is angry, and in verse 29 he says 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'. 'I've been serving you all these years, father, and you never did this for me, you never threw a party for me. I've never done anything wrong!'. Now, listen, who talks to their Dad like that? 'I have served you all these many years', is that the way you're meant to talk to your father? He was relating to his father as an employee to an employer, or as a servant to a master, but certainly not as a son to a father. I want to tell you: a lot of Christians are related to God like that. They are related to God on legalistic basis, and because of that they are religious - but they're not intimate with God, they have not gotten through to God, they have never known what it is for the love of God to be shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. They have never truly had a baptism of that liquid love from heaven that flows from the heart of God like a river.
Some people have many biblical concepts of God, but they're not personally intimate with Him because they don't enjoy Him as Father. Now I like the Presbyterians - do you not know? Amen? I like them! Not all of them, I don't like everybody at all, you know - that's just being honest! I have a lot of Presbyterians in my family, and one great blessing is the catechism that we have from your heritage. Do you know what is the chief end of man? Come on, in unison - the chief end of man is: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever! Good, well done. To glorify God, but to enjoy Him - do you enjoy God? I mean, let's face it, if that hadn't been written hundreds of years ago, it probably wouldn't have got written now in some circles. Because, you know, 'enjoy God', you're talking about Him like He's Disneyland or something - we are meant to enjoy God! The problem is, if we have a false conception of Him we will not enjoy Him, we might be utterly terrified of Him. Now there is godly fear, and we will talk about that, but that is not something that is meant to separate us from God - because God is perfect love, and perfect love casts out fear, for fear speaks of punishment. There is a reverence for God, but it is not a shaking in the boots fear that keeps us away from the heart of Abba Father, and Jesus came to reveal the heart.
So there might be two things that afflict you - there are probably a whole lot of things, but relating to this - two things that we're going to tease out this week. The first is: you might have wrong teaching about God. You might have been party to - and I think in Ulster in particular we have been, and I'm guilty of doing it - we have been under harsh, legalistic, cold and demanding teaching concerning the heart of God. That needs to be addressed, and the imbalance redressed. Not only might we have been under wrong teaching about God, we may have had a wrong example of what a father is. We will look at this in detail in subsequent nights, but a father in the home is meant to cover us, he's meant to protect us, and he's meant to love us - give us boundaries, discipline, yes, and all that - but he's meant to show such a heart of tender love, protection, and security that we are pointed towards Abba Father.
Parents are meant to be signposts to God. God didn't decide to call Himself 'Father', because He thought we might understand what that means because we've got fathers, He called us 'fathers' because he is the Father - He had the name first. Our fathers are meant to point us toward God, but you and I both know that many of our fathers pointed us away from God. Maybe they taught us wrongly about God, and all we got was harshness and hardness from them in a religious sense, they blattered us to death with the Bible. Or maybe it is that they weren't there, they were absent, they left - and we will touch on this later in the week - we are in the fatherless generation. Maybe your father was there but he wasn't there, he was distant, maybe he was working, or maybe he was just passive - and there's a whole generation, even the war generation that came back from World War II, and they had to shut down their emotions in order to survive. So many men came back from war and didn't know how to show emotion - or even in the Troubles.
Maybe your father on earth pointed you away from God, maybe he was even abusive, and so the word 'father' sends shivers up your spine - not warm fuzzy feelings in your heart - that can be a barrier to you getting through to Father God. You need healing for father wounds, parent wounds, if you find it hard to have intimacy with God, if you find it hard to trust God. You will need to forgive the offending parent - and I'm not saying that in a glib way, to just expect that to be a decision in a moment. We bless our parents, as God's word encourages us, and honour them - but we've got to confess our own sins toward them, but also not be in denial that there isn't any perfect parent. I'm not one, and you're not one, and you didn't have any. Some of us need to stop living in denial of what our parents actually did or didn't do.
Let me have an experiment with you as I bring everything to a close. If you were to die tonight (I hope you don't), and go to heaven (I hope you do) - and when you went through the pearly gates, there were three doors in front of you. One door said 'Father', over on the left; the middle door said 'The Son'; and over at the right there was a door 'The Holy Spirit' - OK? You were free, an angel told you, to go into whatever door you want - what door would you go through? Think about it. Right, we'll take a vote here! Who would go through the door of the Holy Spirit? Stick your hand up - where are the wacky folk? That's what people think, isn't it? Oh, you never know what will happen if you go through that door, the charismatic folk, you know! Where are the emotional people? That's what they say people are like - some of you don't look too happy! Put your hand up if you're going to go through the Holy Spirit door - you're allowed to put your hands up. They have permission to put their hands up, haven't they? You're not going to have to pay anything now! Put your hand up if you're going through the door of the Holy Spirit - nobody? Oh, a couple in the back there! Elders, you would need to talk to them afterwards! A couple of folk there, I think they're visiting!
What about the Son, who would go through the door with the Son? Who would go through the door of the Father? There's quite a few - I think you're all licks, you're doing that because it's 'The Father Heart of God', aren't you? Well, a lot of people are afraid of the Holy Spirit, but generally speaking, I think most people would go through the door of the Son, because of 'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, tell me the stories of Jesus', what we know of Him. That is right, in one sense, because He is personable, He is human, He has come to us, He talks with words we understand, He uses parables - we touch Him in the Gospels, He is in a body - but why did He come? To reveal the Father. Some of us would not walk through that door of the Father, because we don't really know Father God, we don't know what's in His heart. Some of us are afraid of Him, some of us think of this despotic headmaster type figure, ready to strike us down when we take a wrong step: 'We're breaking His law!'. Sometimes that has come from wrong teaching, and sometimes it has come from our own father experience.
Thomas Jefferson, the President of the United States, was crossing a swollen river with his troops and one fellow fell off his horse. He stood on the riverbank and waited. One soldier went by on horseback, another, and another, and another. He waited until a few went by, and then he asked the President for a lift, and President Jefferson let him on the back of the horse and took him across to the other side of the river. When he got to the other side, his mates said to him: 'Why on earth, out of all the boys that were coming across the river, did you ask the President for a lift?!'. Do you know what he said? 'I didn't know he was the President, all I know is: on some people's faces is written the word 'No', and on other people's faces is written the word 'Yes', and 'Yes' was on his face'.
John chapter 1 tells us: 'The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ'. Some of you need to hear this tonight: Jesus has a big 'Yes' written on His face, because there is a 'Yes' in the heart of Father God towards the lost, towards the broken, towards the estranged, towards the disenfranchised, towards sinners. God says 'Yes', and He is for you, not against you. Are you excited? It doesn't look like it! Are you excited? Are you excited about looking into God's heart this week? Can I ask you to pray a prayer every day - would you do it for me? It's not: 'For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful' - that's about the height of how some of our praying goes every day. You pray this one - go to the beginning of the book of Ephesians, and it's in there - ask the Lord to open the inner eyes of your understanding, that you might see the four dimensional love of God. Would you go home and pray that every day, a very simple prayer, and come every night - I know that's a tall order, but if you can't come every night get the recordings, because you'll miss something. I'm going to take a different thing every night, you'll miss something, and you need it all. So come, bring people with you, folk who you know need love - and we all need love, and we all need God's love.
Let's pray. We have received transforming truths from Abba's heart to yours, and tonight's is that it beats with the rhythm of grace - so does your heart beat with grace or law? Maybe you need to talk to the Lord about wrong teaching that you've received, or a wrong example that you were given - well, why not do that? Maybe you are ready, some of you may be ready to forgive that father, or maybe a mother, a parent who has driven you away from intimacy and love and affection, and ultimately away from God and His love? We will be looking at that in much detail during the week. Why not start by just saying: 'Lord, whatever, whatever is blocking me from intimacy with Your heart, why I can't see You, and I'm not experiencing Your love in my heart - Lord, would You show me, and would You show me how to deal with it'.
Father, we thank You for what You have done tonight, and what You're going to do this week. We thank You, Father, for revealing Your heart in Jesus. We love Him, Lord, we just love Him, and that makes us love You - because we know what You're like now, we know what You're like. You're for us, not against us. May we all receive that love, may we see You a little bit clearer tonight - and by the end of the week, may we have such a revelation that we will be overwhelmed by the love of Father God. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Union Road Presbyterian Church in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the first recording in his 'The Father Heart Of God' series, entitled "Beats With The Rhythm Of Grace" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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