Good evening everyone! Thank you to Scott and to the musicians for leading us in praise, and thank you for coming and joining with us again this evening. Some of you have been out both previous nights, Sunday and last night, and some of you it's your first night - we're very glad to see you, whatever the circumstances are. If you can join us again, we would love to see you - this is a series of meetings, as has been announced, right until Friday evening. We're looking at 'The Father Heart Of God', and I'm taking a specific aspect of that each night. Every piece is a part of a puzzle that is vital to the whole picture, and so if you can be here every night - and I know it's a tall order - we would love to see you. If you can't, they are being recorded on both CD and DVD I believe, so you can make an order for those - there's a sheet out there - and it's vital that this truth for our times, as we saw last evening, gets out and gets into our hearts. So do avail yourself of that, and encourage people to come along the remaining nights that we have.
I want you to turn with me in your Bibles to John chapter 20, just as an initial reading. We will be looking at other Scriptures, but John chapter 20 first of all. Let's just pray together before we read the Scriptures, and before we meditate upon them. Let's make sure that our hearts are in the right place, and we are attuned to what Father has to say to us tonight. I believe, as I said at the beginning of this series, that there is transforming truth here each night that, if you can get a grip of it, it will change your life. So these are truths that are coming from the very heart of God, and if you can allow your heart to open - well, you'll get a real blessing that you'll never forget for the rest of your lives.
So let's pray and ask the Lord - you pray, 'Lord, speak to me. Lord, come touch my life, come and reveal Yourself to me this evening'. So let's ask God to do that collectively, but you pray for yourself as an individual and ask the Lord to speak to you tonight. Abba Father, we come to You as our Father, the Holy Father, and we thank You for the intimacy that we have in Jesus. We thank You for the spirit of adoption, the spirit of Your Son, which rises up within our hearts and cries: 'Abba Father!'. We thank You that we have not been given a spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption - and, Lord, we want to draw near boldly, therefore, to our Father in heaven. We don't want to stand afar off, Lord, from You, when You want to come near, when You're running to us - as we saw last evening - may we not be running away, may we not be hiding, and may there be no barriers between us and You, for You have demolished the wall of separation between men and Yourself through Jesus at the cross. So, anything that gets in the way, Lord, it's of our making, or perhaps the doing of another who has hurt us or harmed us, and caused us to think wrongly about You. So, Lord, we cry: come by Your Holy Spirit now; and Lord, would You come and give us a revelation again of who You really are, what You are like. May we be like Job tonight, who said at the end of his whole experience, and when he came into that whirlwind and had a face-to-face encounter with You, he declared: 'I have heard what other men have said about You, but now I see You with my own eyes, and I repent of all that I have said about You'. Lord, as we sang last evening, open the eyes of our hearts, we want to see You the way You really are. So come Holy Spirit, come Lord Jesus. May the very hosts of heaven, Lord of Hosts, be here in our midst. May we know that this is a veritable Bethel, a meeting place between God and men and women. For Your glory alone we pray - and heal hearts tonight - we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.
John 20, then, and verse 17: "Jesus said to her" - that is, to Mary who He meets in the garden after His resurrection - "'Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren'", my brothers, "'and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God''".
Now so far, as we have looked at this truth of the Father Heart of God, we have looked at how Father's Heart 'Beats With The Rhythm Of Grace' - and we're not going to repeat that, that was Sunday evening. Last evening we looked at how this truth is particularly for these end times days, and we read from Malachi 4 that there would be a prophetic ministry of an Elijah-like character in the end times, and part of what he would do was: he would turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and the hearts of children back to their fathers. We saw that before every move of God there has been a social crisis, and the social crisis that has marked us in modern times has been the fatherless generation. We saw that this is a truth that God is beginning to reveal, a fresh revelation of an old truth - it has always been there, and yet we have lost something about how God is a Father to us, and what that actually means. So it is 'A Truth For Our Aching Hearts' individually and as a generation. But tonight we're going to look at 'Father Flaws', we're going to look at hindrances and barriers to us enjoying this great truth of the Father Heart of God.
Now, I've been hinting at this in previous nights, and we're taking it step-by-step - we're not giving you everything in one evening, we couldn't do that - but tonight is going to be a delicate one, as is tomorrow night as we look at 'Mother Wounds'. It's not all about father's faults, but also the wounds that we can receive from our mothers. So let's tonight look at 'Father Flaws'. Now let me ask you first of all: have you ever played that game - I don't even know what it's called - but someone says a word to you, and you have to respond by saying spontaneously the word that comes into your mind correspondingly. Now, you nodded your head, alright! You shouldn't have done that next? No, I'll not pick on you - but I'm going to ask you, Scott. 'Word Association', is that what you call it? Right, well, you're going to play it! OK? 'Magherafelt' - don't think about it, what's the word that comes into your head, now be honest, come on - 'Near home'. Well, that's not bad, I thought it was going to be something negative! Thank the Lord it wasn't, I might get into trouble! Do you understand what it is? You don't want to think about it - I wouldn't have asked the headmaster, I don't think he's here tonight, but I wouldn't ask him to do it, because I don't want you to think. It's not something you think about, it's just a spontaneous - it's more than intellectual, it's internal, it's almost emotional.
Now whenever people hear the word 'father' - well, what comes to your mind? Because all sorts of different things come to different people's minds, depending on their own experience of what a father has been to them. You see 'father' is not a neutral word. If you've had a good parental experience, or you're trying your best to be a good father, you might assume wrongly that for most people this is a positive connotation - but there are very different thoughts come to different people's minds when they hear this word. That is because some folk have been wrongly taught about what a father should be through the example of their own fathers. We don't want to be too hard on fathers here tonight in all that we say, because often we have only been the type of father, or had the type of father, that they had or that we have had. We learn by example. We have seen how the experience of our own fathers, humanly, can affect our view of Father God. We have also seen how wrong teaching can skew our understanding and our concept of what God is really like. So there are some people who are left with a warm, secure feeling when they hear the word 'father', but there are other folk who are filled with a sense of horror, shame, fear, because they have had awful fathers. Then there is another group of people, which is greater than you would imagine, and they are just left empty. 'Father', when they hear that term, does nothing for them. They are numb. It's not a particularly negative emotion that they express, it's just no emotion at all.
So let me ask you tonight: what does 'father' mean to you? What is the word association when you hear the name 'father'? Is it someone who is loving, fun, tenderhearted, gentle? Do you think of someone who is a protector, a helper, a friend? Or does immediately come to your mind: a stranger, someone who is distant, a bully, an aggressor, an abuser? Now, we have all got biological fathers, but not all of us have had true fathers, not all of us have had 'Daddies'. Ken Symington, in his book on the Father Heart of God, I think it's called 'A Love Like Never Before', tells of a lady who strolled up to him after one of his meetings, and she struggled in relating to God and trusting in God. She was terrified of God, if the truth was told; and the thought of dying, or Jesus coming again and her meeting with God, filled her with absolute horror. An awful place to be - she was a Christian, of course, but this was the way she felt. Her own human father's behaviour had had a profound effect on how she saw herself. To a large extent, how your father sees you is often the way you see yourself. It had an effect on how she saw herself, but also how she saw God. Now, she became a Christian around the age of 10 or 11 years old, but this proved to be a blockage in her Christian life. Sometimes we get this idea that once you're converted everything is sorted, but far from it - that's when the fun begins. She knew God loved her, and she knew Jesus died for her, and she knew she needed Him desperately, and she took that step of repentance and faith - but there was something that was a barrier to her breaking through into the depths of God's love, and it was her relationship with her earthly father. She wrote a poem which very graphically describes her experience, and many others, and maybe yours here tonight. Bear with me, it's quite long, I mightn't read it all, but listen carefully:
'Daddy, what went wrong? I was supposed to be the apple of your eye.
Yet all I have are memories of how you made me cry.
You never told me what I did wrong to make you hate me so.
I couldn't change the things I did, because I didn't know.
I tried so hard to please you, so you'd love me just a bit,
But we were like a hand inside a glove that didn't fit.
Why did you take me out of my bed and put me in the shed?
So many times the things you did left me wishing I was dead!
Most days you said you wished you had a dog instead of me,
I tried to hide the tears I cried, so you couldn't see.
You did so many crazy things, going wild with your loaded gun,
It frightened me the things you did, and you stole all my fun.
When I said I'd gave my life to God it made you hate me more.
You used to grab me by the hair and pull me to the floor.
You'd kick me many times to make me say God was not real,
But at that time nothing you did could take away the joy I'd feel!
Then I heard God was a Father, and that just filled my life with fears.
It made me want to run and hide, so much screaming, shouting, tears.
How can God be my Daddy and love me, if you couldn't?
I tried so hard to please you, and not do the things I shouldn't.
No lights, no heating, some days no food, and no pictures on our wall:
We lived in total fear of the time when you, from the pub would crawl.
We felt like prisoners in your house, a place so cold and cruel -
We weren't allowed to get it right, because you kept changing all the rules.
But they tell me God is not like you, He loves me, He really does!
And all the things you did to me, they broke His heart, because
To Him, my life is precious, He doesn't want to punish me,
He wants to take away my pain, so at last I can be free.
He wants to give me back my smile, He wants to show me how to live,
He wants to wrap me in his arms, He has so much He wants to give!
Only, Dad, the things you did to me, they hurt me deep inside,
And trusting God to love me is so hard - I know, I've tried!
Why could you never love me? You never set me on your knee!
I missed you so much, Daddy, but you just wait and see:
One day God will help me, He will take me by the hand,
He will take me from the darkness into a whole new land.
A land where I'll find my peace, and know His love inside,
Where at last I will feel safe, and no longer want to hide.
A place where I can lift my head, and no longer feel the shame,
A place where I'll have a right to live with joy instead of pain'.
That lady, Dee Smith, goes on in that poem - you can read it for yourself - very graphically to describe not only the pain of her past experience with her father, but the wonder of the love that she now knows through the love of God being shed abroad in her heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. But let me ask you again: what does 'father' mean to you? Now maybe you had a good Dad, and we want to celebrate that - I mean, we're not inferring that everybody has had a miserable father. We want to praise God for fatherhood, and for godly men, and even those who are not Christians but have been good role models and good father figures in the home. But even, tonight, if you have had a good father, don't you think that you don't have a problem - because you could have been so secure in your parental relationships, in your earthly relationships to Mum and Dad, that you don't seek a relationship with God as your Father. This can be a problem, particularly in western middle-class Christian homes that have had good parents. There can be disordered relationships, even in our relationship as parents to our children, or between husbands and wives. What I mean is this: there is a disordered love, whereby we're finding satisfaction in the love of our families in a way that we ought to be finding satisfaction in God alone - it becomes not only disordered, but idolatrous. So we don't search and seek for God, because we're pretty happy with what we've got down here in people.
But, however our parents have been, whether they have been good or bad, we are commanded in Scripture to honour them. So I don't want to be misconstrued this week as being down on Dads or Mothers. Ephesians 6 reminds us that this is one of the commandments of God, and it is the commandment with blessing: 'Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honour your father and mother', which is the first commandment with promise: 'that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth''. So we don't want to fall into the trap of the blame game, and blaming all our bad behaviour on our Mums or Dads, or Grannies and Grandfathers. We can't blame everything on our parents, and exonerate ourselves of our own moral responsibilities. So we've got to confess our own sins, and we've got plenty of them! We may have been taught wrong, or given wrong examples, but where we have partaken in the sins of our fathers and forefathers, we've got to confess it. Guilty as charged! But equally: we must not be in denial of what our mothers and fathers have really been like. Sometimes I think there are folk, particularly in Christian homes, who are afraid to be honest about how things really were, for fear that they are breaking the commandment and they're dishonouring their parents. You can honour them and bless them, but still tell the truth and not be in denial about how things really were. We must be honest if we're going to move into healing and wholeness in Christ, and we're going to experience the Father heart of God and removal of every barrier.
So we're going to look tonight at some 'Father Flaws', some behavioural traits that can be in our earthly fathers that can get in the way of us breaking into the Father heart of God and His great love. There are five or six here, and they're certainly not exhaustive, but they are common. First of all, there is the performance orientated father - performance orientated. In other words, you only get approval from this Dad through achievement - alright? Now, we want to exhort our children to do their best, to fulfil their potential, but this is not unconditional love. There is a condition upon the approval and favour of this type of father, and that is: you've got to do well. What this does in children is, it breeds perfectionism. Perfectionism can be on a sliding scale - but perfectionists usually are at the top of the scale or the bottom of the scale. The folk at the top of the scale are the high achievers that want to do well all the time, and they are trying to achieve perfection - which, of course, is impossible. They're trying to gain approval that way. But also, if you'll excuse the expression, the bum at the bottom of the scale is also a perfectionist - you know, the dropout, the one who won't try any more - and that's because, if he can't achieve perfection, he's not going to try at all. Do you understand? That is a fruit of perfectionism as well, it's not just the highflyer, it's also the dropout. Sometimes when we have performance orientated fathers, we can be like this.
Let me give you an example: you get all As in your GCSEs, or maybe you get nine A-stars and one A, and this Dad wants to know why there weren't ten A-stars. Now maybe this is the type that you have had, or maybe you are one of these. How does that make a child feel, do you think? Nine A-stars and one A, and Dad focuses on the one A - or, you know, it's out of 10, this test, and the wee child comes in and he gets 9/10, and this Daddy focuses, and Mums can do the same, focuses on the one he got wrong: 'Now why did you get that wrong?'. Or, if he gets 10 out of 10, it's: 'Now, I want you to be doing that every week now'. It's not enough that he did it, or she did it that day, it has to now be all the time. He is never satisfied or pleased. We cannot underestimate the need for praise and affirmation in children. Now I'm not saying, like some - I nearly said 'crackpots', but that's naughty - some strange folk with ideas that we should be praising kids for doing wrong things and bad things, I'm not talking about that. But we should bring praise and affirmation into children's lives, because it builds them up, it edifies them. Many children are trying to gain the approval of their parents because their parents are performance orientated.
James Dobson, the child psychologist, the Christian commentator and founder of Focus on the Family, says - now, listen to this, this is profound: 'It takes at least forty words of praise to counteract just one word of criticism in a child'. Forty words of praise and affirmation to counteract one word of criticism! Some fathers might think: 'Ach, I'm preparing my boy for this big bad world out there, I don't want him to be a softie - he needs to toughen up!'. You might think that's what you're doing, when actually you're scarring your child. Your child will grow up with a fear of failure. Many very academic, highly achieving children, when they fail first it's like a breakdown for them - because it has never happened before, and they don't know how to cope. You can't go through life without failing, without crashing, without mistakes - but when we have performance orientated fathers or authority figures, there can come a drivenness in our life, a drivenness to be approved by those above us - the need to be accepted. I'm looking inward here as well, I'm looking at myself as a parent and as a Christian leader, supposedly.
Christian homes can be very susceptible to this, because we are high on standards, aren't we? We are high on morals, and we want to live principled lives - and sometimes as parents, it can seem that we are demanding absolute obedience for our children, we're not giving them room to fail and to fall down. The author Jack Frost, whose book I would highly recommend on 'The Father Heart of God', he says that an unofficial survey - I imagine it was in the States - suggested that a high percentage of adult children of pastors, minister's children, experience some form of psychiatric care for depression in their lives because of a heavy performance orientation that was in the home. They couldn't live up to it. By the way, this is where burnout comes from - by a drivenness to try to achieve approval of others, or of expectations, or some bar that you have erected for yourself as a standard, and it's completely impossible; or maybe even, this is how religious people go crackers, you think there is a standard that God is expecting of you, and you're trying to reach it, but it's utterly impossible. So you crash and burn spiritually. You feel that you don't have approval unless you achieve. This is why children need unconditional love expressed to them.
Fathers: do you express unconditional love to your children? When they fail as well as when they fly, can you express love to them? They need to have it expressed, they need to receive it - children are different and receive it in different ways, and you've got to get to know your children. For some children it will be touch, for some children it will be just time, that's all they want is time with you. But here's the bottom line, as we saw on Sunday evening: Father's heart beats with the rhythm of grace, and that's the way our hearts are meant to beat toward our children - grace, unmerited favour! Free, lavished, not because we earn it, or we deserve it, but when we don't we get it - by grace we have been saved through faith! That's the way our God is - you make sure you don't have a wrong view of God because of a father that was performance orientated. Maybe that's where you are living a legalistic Christian life? I'm not going to backtrack on what I've already said, but get the recordings.
The second father flaw is the authoritarian father. It's self-explanatory: he struck fear into you. Your father - excuse the expression, anybody in education - but he was more of a schoolmaster type than a loving Dad. This is a father for whom rules are more important than relationship. Do you understand? Keeping within the lines, an authoritarian figure - and many of them are Christians. We have to be realistic that many young people have been put off Christianity and the Gospel because of harsh, cold, overbearing authoritarian fathers, the legalistic type.
Another father flaw is the passive father, and this is very, very common. This is the father who is there, but not there. Do you understand what I mean? He's in the house, but he's not at home. Now that can be for many reasons, there can be a disconnect emotionally with a father like this - and, as I've said already, we're not shovelling guilt and shame on our parents, but we have to be real, not be in denial, but also understand that often the way that our fathers have behaved toward us is the way their fathers behaved toward them. It's not all their fault. But if you have had a passive father, it might be that there was a lack of emotion expressed from him to you. He never touched you, he never embraced you, expressed physical love, there were never verbal expressions of affection or affirmation. Often passive fathers are workaholics. We have a concept - and hard work is a good virtue - but we have this concept that we are the providers, and Mummy can do all that lovey-dovey stuff, but as long as I'm putting food on the table and clothes on their back, I'm doing my bit - heating the home, roof over their head, they'll thank me for it later in life, and that'll make up for everything. Let me tell you: it doesn't make up for everything. You can buy your wee girl as many Mini Coopers as you like, it's not going to make up for love.
But hold on, many a passive father is not just a workaholic father, but a Christian father who their children see regularly, night after night after night, lifting up their coat and going out the door and leaving them - they don't know where they're going, maybe they know they're going to church, and church needs them. Do your children not need you? Now, please, I'm not saying you should mitch church, but church culture needs to look at this and ask the question: are we asking, at times, of our families too much at their expense? You only need to look at the figures I've given you about pastor's kids to realise that that is what is happening. Can we not do this better? Then, what can often come is - and this is what we are really getting at - is that God can seem... you know, if your father is a bit distant and disinterested, it would appear, in you - well, that's the idea we get of God. Unconsciously we imbibe this concept that, you know, 'He's up there, and I believe He loves me and everything, but, you know, I just need to get on with my life'. He's not close, He's not intimate, there is no real relationship. There is a song that is sung, and I hate it: 'From a distance, God is watching us' - you know that. He's not at a distance, that is a lie. God is not at a distance! God came in human flesh in Jesus Christ to this world so that He might be close. He became one of us, sin apart of course, but He came into our life, walked in our shoes, bore our sin, took our hell on the cross - you can't get any closer! In fact, when we trust Him and repent of our sin, He comes to live inside us! He's not at a distance! He's certainly not passive, but He's very active in our lives - He shows us Father God.
So if you've had a passive father - and I sympathise with you, I'm sure he loved you and I'm sure he provided for you, and maybe he didn't know how to be any different, and maybe that's you here tonight - but God is not like that. Don't for one minute construe that God is like that. The performance orientated father, the authoritative father, the passive father, and then there is the absent father. Now this can be for several reasons. Your father could have died when you were very young, some fathers have died before a child was born, or in infancy, or you were so young that you really have no clear memories of your father. That's a serious thing. Then there is desertion, where a father walks out the door and leaves - there can be a myriad of reasons why that happens, and then of course that can lead to divorce. These are reasons why we are living in a fatherless generation. Now, obviously decease, no one can do anything about that, but when it comes to desertion and divorce, we saw last night that just last week the figures have come out from a European Union survey that Britain has the highest divorce rate in all of Europe. In the United States, I'm led to believe that 50% of children wake up in a home with someone present who is not their biological father. Because some of these children haven't known any better - whether father has died, or deserted them, or divorced the mother - they think: 'I'm alright!'. A lot of them do think: 'I'm OK!', because they haven't known any different, and they don't realise how they have been affected by their absentee father. How, deep within their human identity in their spirit, there can be great rejection, there can be a sense of abandonment that they can remember as far back as they were conscious.
I want to tell you tonight: if you have had an absentee father, for whatever reason, you've got to understand that God, your Father, is not like that! Are you hearing this? When you hear the word 'Father in Heaven', don't you associate Him with what your father wasn't. I want you to listen, you can turn with me to it, to Hebrews 13. This is a very familiar verse, but I pray that God the Holy Spirit would apply it to you in a new and fresh way tonight. Hebrews 13 verse 5: 'Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He', that is, God, 'Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you''. Now, who knows that verse? Who knows that verse? Stick your hand up in the air, way up high - nearly everybody, if not everybody, knows that verse. OK, let me read it to you in the Amplified Version of the Bible, which just takes the different nuances of the Greek language and expands it to try and give us a clearer understanding of what is being said. Listen carefully, don't look at your own Bible, just listen to this: 'For He, God Himself, has said, 'I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down, relax My hold on you! Assuredly not!''. Is that clear enough for you? Kenneth Wuest points out that in the Greek there are three negatives that precede the verb: 'I will not, I will not, I will not leave you'. Like, what do you want Him to do? What do you want Him to say? Some of you are rocky when it comes to the assurance of your salvation, and I'm not going to enter into that whole debate tonight, but listen: if you have repented of your sins and believed the Gospel, and you have a heart that is seeking after God to walk in His ways - listen, this is what your Heavenly Father says, The Message says: 'God assures us, 'I'll never let you down, never walk off and leave you''. You who have had fathers who walked off and left you, you need to know tonight: that may be a father flaw that your biological Dad had, but not your Heavenly Father.
Finally there is the abusive and aggressive father. For some of us, our fathers were monsters. I'm involved, from time to time, in prayer ministry with people - and you would not believe what goes on in our country, you would not believe it. Maybe your father was the monster of an aggressive type, of which there are many - explosive anger, violence, all sorts of emotional, verbal, physical, sexual abuse - but, you know, there is the other monster that is rather pleasant and charming. Still monstrous, but has this nice side to him. I'm led to believe by some historians that Adolf Hitler was a very amenable person one-to-one, very charming. You see, this can cause a lot of confusion in the heart and the mind of a child, because there are some people who have been abused in ways that you couldn't even imagine - nor would you want to - and yet they still have an affection towards their Dad who did it. Can you imagine how that scrambles your head? But it's because it's their Dad, and they want to love him, and they want to be loved.
For other people, it's not a father but it's another authority figure who has been abusive and aggressive. Again, I don't want to do think that I'm all down on teachers or headmasters or anything - but, you know, you're doing a very special job, and I hope that you're called of God to do it, I hope it's a calling in your life. I thank God for every Christian teacher and godly example in our schools, but if you are a teacher: don't take your responsibility lightly, because some people are scarred because of the way the authority figure of a teacher behaved towards them - what a teacher said. 'You're stupid! You'll never amount to anything! You can't sing! You can't draw! You can't spell!'. Lest you think I'm too hard on that fraternal, ministers and pastors do the same all the time. There is a lot of spiritual abuse that is going on in churches today, and the sheep are suffering for it.
Children grow up with a lack of trust, there are people who can't trust anybody. It's not that they don't want to trust, but because authority figures to whom they entrusted themselves were untrustworthy, they decide: 'I can't trust anybody, I need to look after myself!'. So they shut down and they protect themselves, and that's why children need security and comfort. Children need to feel safe physically and emotionally. There is no place for violence and explosive anger in the home. Our God describes Himself as a Father of mercies, and a God of all compassion. Now I'm not entering into the debate of how you discipline your children or anything like that, but it should never be done in a flash of anger.
So, what kind of father did you have? Performance orientated? Authoritarian? Passive? Absent? Abusive or aggressive? Many counsellors believe that the majority of a child's identity is formed through the father-child relationship, that's why it's important what our fathers are like. But more than that: our view of Father God can be shaped by the way our fathers have been, and it can make it difficult to relate to God. Now listen to this statement: Jesus was the Man He was because of the Father He had. Did you get that? Jesus was the Man He was because of the Father He had. He, as we saw the other evening, He has come to reveal the heart of the Father - that's what John 15, the prodigal son, is all about - but that's what the life of Jesus was. He is the express image of God's Person, He has come to reveal the heart of Abba. He shows us that God is none of those things above. He's not performance orientated, He has only given us the law to show us that we are sinners and we need grace. He's not authoritarian in a wrong sense. He's not passive, He's very active in our lives - even to the point of coming in His Son and dying on the cross for us. He's certainly not absent, He is present, He's right beside us and He dwells in us. He's not abusive, He's not aggressive. Just look at how Jesus portrays the Father's unconditional love, and you will understand how Heavenly Father is.
So, can I ask you: do you need the term 'father' redefined for you? Whatever your association of words with that word has been, is there a hindrance to the Father's love here that is blocking you breaking through into the wonder of what this is to know Father's heart? Will you tonight, allow Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to redefine the word 'father' for you? Jesus was the Man He was because of the Father He had - but listen: He's your Father! Jesus said in our opening reading, as He was going to ascend: 'I'm going to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God'. Isn't that amazing, isn't it? God could have called Himself anything He liked, but He called himself 'Father', and Jesus taught us to pray: 'Our Father, which art in heaven'.
I'm going to tell you something: do you know, in the Gospels, Jesus calls Him 'Your Father' more than 'Our Father' or 'My Father'? You look it up, look at Matthew chapter 5, 6, look right throughout and, if you mark your Bible, ring 'Your Father' over and over again. So much teaching there, look at it: how God cares for us more than the sparrows, and clothing the lilies of the field - your Father in heaven, your Father in heaven sees in secret, your Father, your Father. What is He wanting us to know? This relationship that made Him who He was as the Son of God, makes us who we are as the sons and daughters of God in His family.
What is He like? Turn quickly with me to 1 Corinthians 13. What is Father God like? Now I think when I was with you before, last September, it's hard to remember - if it's hard for me to remember you, you'll definitely not remember! - I spoke one night on love, I think, and I took you here and I asked you to substitute the word 'Love' in this great purple passage on love with 'Jesus'. Do you remember that? No? Well, it doesn't matter! Verse 4 of 1 Corinthians 13: 'Love suffers long', Jesus suffers long - OK? Replace it with 'Jesus'. Then I asked you to replace it with yourself, your own name, and we all fall as failures there - but replace it tonight with 'Father'. 'Father God suffers long and is kind; Father does not envy; Father does not parade Himself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek His own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Father never fails'.
Now, how do I know that's the case? Because God is love - yes, He's holy, and yes, God is light - but God is love. What is your substitute for Father? What has become your substitute for this love, this intimacy that you should have? You remember we saw last night that the prodigal joined himself to something other than his father love - what are you joined to tonight? There is a tragedy in our nation and in our world today where there are young men who haven't had great father figures, and they certainly haven't had affection, and they're looking for a father figure - and when they come to the years of adolescence, that affection that they were looking for as children becomes eroticised and they look for sexual partners of the same sex, and it's symbolism for many of them looking for their fathers. Now I'm not saying that's the case all the time, but I believe often it is.
But what have you joined yourself to? For some men it is - and it's not always men - but often sexual promiscuity, because of an emptiness of love in your heart, that father-shaped hole that is there, you're trying to fill it with physical love - the intimacy that you didn't have with your father. Can I tell you what will break the power of pornography, what will break the power of homosexuality - and I don't underestimate the journey that some people have to go on - but what will break every false intimacy that you have substituted for father's love, it is the intimacy with Abba Father, it is getting your heart fed with His love. That's what you've all been looking for, and that's what you have - so what you need to do tonight is, you need to repent. You need to repent of all your sins, but specifically you need to repent of substitutes for Father's love that you have put in your heart and in your life. You need to repent of ungodly coping mechanisms, often addictions are for that reason - to try to cope with pain and emptiness. You need to repent of ungodly reactions: maybe because you have been hurt, you hurt others. You need to - and this is a hard one - forgive your parents. That doesn't mean they get off the hook, that doesn't mean you need to feel good about what they did, but what it is is: you're getting out of the way, and you're taking them off your hook of justice and putting them on God's so that you can be healed and released, and so the bitterness doesn't cause a root within your heart that will prevent God's love coming to you. You also need to ask for healing and release from any bondage of the enemy, and by faith tonight, you need to embrace true Father the way He really is.
Do you know something? If you come to the Father tonight, like we saw in the prodigal last night, He will be there to lift you up. Let's pray together. Let me just take a moment - that's what all of us really want, that's what we're all looking for. Not the love of an earthly father - though, when that is missing, it can be an aching void in our hearts - but every emptiness can only be filled by the love of Father God. While every head is bowed and eye closed, are there people here tonight - and I know this is a very, very difficult subject for many - but if God has spoken to you and you want to acknowledge that in His presence, and you want all barriers and blockages to experiencing His love shed in your heart, and you want to be healed of father flaws, would you raise your hand just where you're sitting? Quickly raise it and put it down again. Just where you're sitting, don't be afraid now, we are in the presence of God your Father. If you know there is a need, and you need healing for that, just raise your hand. God bless you. Is there anyone else? God bless you.
Now let's pray and just come to Father, He's there, He's already there, He's just there in front of you, He's beside you, He's around you, and He's within you. He is holding you now in His embrace, if you will just release yourself, and relax yourself, and lean on Him, lean on His breast. Confess to Him now the things that you have put as substitutes for that love. Confess to Him any hardness that has come into your life, where you have tried to cope and just plough on, and think: 'Ach, button the lip and get on with it, toughen up!' - but you've damaged yourself, and maybe others, by doing that, maybe ungodly ways that you coped with father flaws. Will you ask Him now to release you from the damage, to heal you, to break all bondage of the enemy that is over you. Ask Him to do that now just where you're sitting, and ask Him now to reveal to you, and receive now in an embracing faith, embrace now the love of your Father. If it helps to envisage, as His arms are open toward you, throw your arms around Him - throw your arms around Him. He wants to raise you up, He wants to lift you if you're struggling tonight.
Oh Father, we can sense Your loving arms around us tonight in this place, roundabout and underneath those strong arms of a loving, tender Father - those everlasting arms that have held the world and the universe in existence for all time. But we thank You that, as Your children, we are cradled in those arms. May every single person here tonight feel it, Lord! We want to feel the hug of our Dads on earth, and we want to feel the hug of our Holy, Heavenly Father. We need to feel Your hug, Lord. May some folk here tonight that have never really been hugged properly, receive Your embrace tonight. 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 third recording in his 'The Father Heart Of God' series, entitled "Father Flaws" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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