Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Across Broken Glass

I love being a Dad. I’ll just say that right at the start. When I think of the roles in my life, being a father and a husband are the top two. Often those two roles are so intertwined that I see them as two sides of the same coin. When my first child was born in 1991 I grew up about a decade in one hour. It was time to put away my youth and be a man. (Some people had been telling me that for years.)

When I was doing a phone interview in 1994 with the Culver Palms congregation in Los Angeles, for whom I eventually preached, a search team member asked me, “What has being a father taught you about God?” Don’t you hate interview questions like that?! I don’t remember what I said in response, but with fifteen more years of fatherhood under my belt I would say that the opposite has been the case: the more I learn about God the more I want to conform my fathering to that image.

This week on Father’s Day I am finishing a series on the Parable of the Prodigal Son by talking about “The Risk-Taking Father.” The father in the parable is passionate and, some would say, reckless. Why does he give the inheritance to the younger son upon request? Doesn’t this adversely affect the family’s reputation, material well-being, and future provision? Why does he welcome back the younger son whole-heartedly and without reservation, indeed with complete self-giving? These are not “prudent” actions.

I was having lunch with my daughter after I preached on the Elder Son and she asked, “Dad, doesn’t the Elder Son have a point? Shouldn’t the Father have given him back his privileges and his standing in stages, as he proved his change of heart?” Good point! This is where we should all wrestle with the parable. If we don’t engage with this, if we aren’t at least somewhat disturbed by this, then we aren’t comprehending the scandal, the offense, of God’s grace.

I’m pretty sure Jesus isn’t trying to give a seminar on parenting. He’s trying to get through to his oh-so-religious listeners about the height, width, and depth of God’s grace and mercy. And withal, God’s passion for his children. That’s the lesson I take from God about being a father: having a passion for my children and their well-being, and seeing it as part of my service to God to love, cherish, nurture, discipline, guide, teach, and sacrifice for them.

Remember when the little Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez left Cuba with his mother to flee to Florida? Their boat floundered in a storm and his mother and ten other people died. Elian and two others were picked up by the Coast Guard and brought to Florida, where he was taken in by distant relatives. A battle ensued about whether Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba (who had not known the mother was fleeing with him) or given asylum in America. Two of Elian’s grandmothers from Cuba came on a much-publicized visit to lobby for his return. But his father never came. He never came! One radio talk show host marveled at this, saying, “If I were the father, I would personally swim to Florida to rescue my son. I would crawl across broken glass to be re-united with him.”

I want to be the kind of father who crawls across broken glass for my children. And that is the Father in the parable. That is the God we serve. Prudence is fine. Passion changes lives.


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