I love my kids. If something is within my power to do for them (and it’s good for them), I want to do it. If the choice had to be made I would gladly take a bullet for them. Sure there are times when I want to slap them silly, and yes occasionally they drive me nuts. But Michelle and I love them, and we want the very best for them in every way.
In spite of my love for my kids, however, I don’t always live up to the kind of love that I aspire to. I haven’t kept all of my promises to them. The flaws in my character have mysteriously hung around in spite of all that God has done for me and all that I have learned. I don’t always live out what I believe. Selfishness way too often rules my behavior instead of the sacrificial kind of love that I know I should have.
Maybe you can relate to me. You want to be a good example. The kind of person that inspires people to live better. But there are times and there are days when you just don’t make the grade. It’s not that we don’t want to live up to a higher calling. Things just seem to get in the way.
Some days we are simply under pressure to get things done or to perform and we just crack. It’s too much for us to handle, and when we get squeezed what comes out of us doesn’t always look good. I don’t know about you but the stress of not enough time, money, energy, health…just not enough…can be like an avalanche crushing me. Then there are those daily curve balls, those unexpected, unplanned, unwanted interuptions, emergencies and crises. Do you ever wonder out loud, “Can I just have a normal day?”
I think we’d all hope to be like the father in this story…
ON DECEMBER 7, 1988, AN EARTHQUAKE DEVASTATED THE NORTHWESTERN SECTION OF ARMENIA, KILLING AN ESTIMATED 25,000 PEOPLE.
In one small town, just after the earthquake, a father rushed to his son’s school only to find that the school had been flattened. There was no sign of life.
But he had no thought of turning back. He had often told his son, “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you when you need me!”
Though his prospects appeared hopeless, the father began feverishly removing rubble from where he believed his son’s classroom had been. Other forlorn parents only wailed hopelessly…”My son!” or “My daughter!” Some told the father to go home, that there was no chance that any of the children could be alive. Yet, he replied: “I made my son a promise that I’d be there for him anytime he needed me. I must continue to dig.”
Courageously, he worked alone; no one volunteered to help him. He simply had to know for himself: “Is my boy alive or is he dead?” Finding strength and endurance beyond himself, the faithful, loving father continued to dig…for 8 hours…12…24…36 hours. Then in the 38th hour, as he heaved away a heavy piece of rubble, he heard voices. “Armand!” he screamed.
A child’s voice responded: “Dad! It’s me…Armand!” Then, “I told the other kids not to worry. I told them that if you were alive, you’d save me, and when you saved me, they’d be saved. You promised you would always be there for me! You did it, Dad!”
Moments later, the dad was helping his son Armand and 13 more frightened, hungry, and thirsty boys and girls climb out of the debris. Free at last! When the building collapsed, these children had been spared in a tent-like pocket.
When the townspeople praised Armand’s dad, his explanation was, “I promised my son, ‘No matter what, I’ll be there for you!'”
This is a true story, and it shows the power of a father’s love. The father in this story made his son a promise, and in spite of the evidence to the contrary, the father never gave up trying to rescue his son.
That’s the kind of love that I’d like to have for my kids. The kind that always follows through with my promises. What a huge difference that made for Armand. He knew that his father would keep his promise, and because of that he was able to give hope to those other trapped kids.
You may not have had the kind of father who loved you like this father or kept his promises. But like the father in this story, we all have a heavenly Father who loves us and keeps his promises. The Bible tells the story of a Father’s love. We read in the Bible that our heavenly Father’s love is steadfast, unmovable, unshakable, relentless, never-ending. When God our Father makes a promise, He always keeps it.
In our world love is all too often characterized by feeling. As long as the feeling lasts, the love lasts. Once the feeling is over the love dies. But the love of our Father in heaven is different to the extreme. The kind of love that the Bible talks about doesn’t exist in humans. Oh, we see glimpses of this kind of love, like Armand’s father and perhaps like we have experienced from our fathers or others. What is God’s love like?
God’s love is characterized by enduring commitment
God’s love is the love of a father who follows through with what he has promised. He is committed to his children, and he follows through on those commitments. He is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
When we say the word, “love” it can mean a whole lot of things. When our heavenly Father says “love”, it means something very specific. The word in the Hebrew language is “Hesed”. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to quote another verse from the 2 Chronicles 20:21. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” Regardless of circumstances the love of God is steadfast; it never gives up.
One of the challenges of being a father is how to respond to your children when they don’t do what you say. I’m sure every father here would like to say that their response to disobedient children has always been compassion and graciousness, slowly becoming angry, forgiving rebellion and sinful behavior. Yet the pages of the Bible are full of examples where God our Father responded this way every time.
When the people of Israel had been delivered from the slavery of Egypt and had been given the revelation of God talking to them out loud from Mount Sinai and declaring to them the 10 commandments, the very next day they put together a golden calf and worshipped it and said that the calf had delivered them from slavery.
After the Lord brought the people of Israel into the land of His promise, they consistently fell into the trap of worshipping the so-called gods of the neighboring countries. Time after time the Lord sent prophets to turn their hearts back to him. Time after time the people of Israel turned away.
If any father had a right to stop his love and walk away, it would be our heavenly Father. Instead God’s love is characterized by enduring commitment. No story shows this better than the story of the prodigal son. The father in this story was a good father. In spite of all that the father had done for him, his son only wanted his money. He asked his father for his inheritance. Back then it was the same as today. You typically get an inheritance only after your parents die. So the son in the story was essentially saying, “I wish you were dead.” That’s not very nice.
You know the story: in regards to his money the son chose poorly and very soon found himself poor. His only choice for survival was the worst circumstance imaginable for a Jewish boy, feeding pigs and trying to survive on the food they ate. When he came to his senses and realized that it was much better even for his father’s servants than for himself, he returned home with great humility. His father showed the same kind of love that our heavenly Father has for us and welcomed him with open arms. The son’s homecoming is a vivid picture of God’s steadfast love. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) God’s love is characterized by enduring commitment.
This is such a contrast with the kind of love that we read about in books, that we see in movies, or even perhaps that we experience in our families or among our friends. The ongoing trend in America is to shy away from commitment. The U.S. Census Bureau says that more Americans are waiting longer to be married. One of the major reasons is a fear of divorce. The effect of so many marriages ending in divorce is to lose faith in commitments in general. The solution then becomes to not make any commitments at all. So you see that many couples today, rather than making a commitment to each other in marriage, instead live together. While these relationships can show a great deal of caring and human love for each other, they fall very short of the kind of love that God has and has designed for humans to experience.
I went to three weddings in May. My nephew was married in Missouri. My niece was married in Virginia. I officiated at a wedding here at Camp Wakonda. The weddings were all very different, but they each shared a time where the bride and groom made promises to each other. Among these promises each of these couples promised to love each other and stay committed to each other through thick and thin for as long as they both shall live. They made a covenant to each other.
The covenant is the core of the marriage ceremony. It defines the level of commitment that the husband and wife have for each other. It defines the quality of their love for each other. Our heavenly Father shows his love to us human beings in a similar way.
God’s commitment to love is expressed through His covenants
Let me share with you a thing. When a boy and a girl like each other but they are not officially dating, they have a thing. I’ve asked what the meaning of a “thing” is, and the only response to date that I have received is that, “It’s just a thing.”
A thing describes the time before a boy and a girl have the “define the relationship” talk. For some people that’s really hard to do. For God, the “define the relationship” talk is what His covenant is all about.
You see, God’s original design was to have children and to have them be a part of His family forever. But early on, Adam and Eve early on, God’s kids decided that they didn’t want to be a part of His family, just like the prodigal son didn’t want to be a part of his family.
But God being the loving father that He is could not rest until there was a way for His wandering kids to come home. However, when they came home He wanted to make sure that they understood where their relationship stood. So the Lord God has always made covenants with people. Let me give you a few examples.
When God made a covenant with Abraham, He promised that He would make Abraham the father of many nations and that He would give his descendants the land of Israel as their possession. Abraham and his descendants promised that the Lord God would be their God and that they would circumcise every male in their family.
Did God keep his promises? Yes, because not only is Abraham the father of the Jews and the Arabs, he is also the father of everyone who lives by faith in Jesus Christ. His example of faith is the one that has impacted every person who trusts Christ.
When God made a covenant with the people of Israel through Moses, He promised that they would be his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:6) The people of Israel were to obey his laws, the 10 commandments and the various laws of sacrifice and other commands.
Did God keep His promises? Absolutely! There is no people in history who have been used by God and kept by God like the Jews. The Lord set them apart to be the means through whom He would bring about redemption for the whole world.
In all of God’s covenants, He has kept up his side of the promise. However His people have a history of breaking their promises. It is because of this that the Lord brought a final covenant which we call the new covenant in Christ’s blood. The new covenant like the older ones has promises. God’s promise is that the penalty of sin is fully taken care of through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Our side of the covenant is that we promise to trust in Christ alone. Once we do that we are brought back into his family.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” Because God is love He can’t stop Himself from loving the people whom He made. In one sense they are all His children. However, He doesn’t want to love people from a distance. He wants them in His family. In order to do that He has to, as a loving and fair and good Father, define the boundaries of what is means to be a member of His family. God’s commitment to love is expressed through His covenants. He doesn’t want us to be confused by what He expects. He expects us to trust Him. He expects us to receive His love and to love Him back.
Yet confusion about what God expects has always been a problem under the new covenant. Many of the Jews of the first century had a very difficult time letting go of the necessity of circumcision in order to become a part of God’s family. The apostle Paul, however, was clear. People don’t need to be circumcised in order to become a member of God’s family. “So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law.” (Galatians 2:16) God’s covenant today with people is by faith.
Isn’t it a relief to know that what God expects from us in relationship is that we trust Him? Somehow people get thrown off from the real story of the Bible. It is the story of a Father’s love. The love which we read about in the Bible is the love of a Father who never gives up and whom we can always trust to keep his promises.
Perhaps you’ve had a hard time trusting your heavenly Father. Things have not turned out the way that you’ve expected, and you’re having a hard time believing that He really does love you and really is committed to you. Perhaps you’ve turned your back on Him and you don’t think there is any way He really wants you back.
The only picture that I have of our heavenly Father is what I read about in the Bible, and it tells me over and over again that I can trust Him, that His love is steadfast and unchanging.
I want you to say something with me. It might be hard for you to say, or it might be easy. It’s just a simple statement of trust. “I know my heavenly Father is going to take care of me.”
What would our world be like if we truly understood that our heavenly Father loved us and like the father who dug his son out of the rubble his love keeps his promises? How would we be different if we trusted our heavenly Father based on the steadfastness of His love for us?