I have found that if I want to get people talking (especially guys), all I have to do is ask them about their father. Instantly, you will either hear stories of heroism or abandon; stories of pain or great joy; stories of great pride or great shame. But one thing’s for sure: You’ll hear stories…

One night not too long ago, while sitting in a dimly lit basement at a Men’s Bible Study, the discussion of fatherhood came up. Specifically, we were talking about what God was like as a Father. In response to the discussion, an older man in our group shared how difficult it was for him to relate to God by that title. For when he thought of that word “father”, he couldn’t help but think of his earthly father who was abusive and drunk. His father was never there, and when he was there he was harsh and impossible to please. He went on to tell a particularly gut wrenching story that encapsulated for him what his father was like:

“I remember one moment when I was a little kid I was playing baseball on this little league team. My team was winning, but the other team was up and threatening to score. It all came down to one final play. If the kid who was up to bat got a hit, their runners score and they win. If the kid hits it out, my team wins. Sure enough the kid hit a fly ball to the outfield. It was soaring right toward me! Everything hinged on whether I caught that ball…. Well, I dropped it and the other team won the game.

He continued, “I felt terrible, but the thing I remember most about that day was the look on my father’s face: It was filled with disappointment and disgust.” My friend began to tear up as if he was reliving the experience right before our eyes. He said, “My father was so embarrassed by me that he refused to talk to me or even look at me the whole ride home.”

You may have felt at some time in your life that your heavenly Father views you the same way. Every time you drop the ball, every time you make a mistake, every time you blow it, you’re prone to thinking that God is sitting in heaven looking at you with disappointment and disgust. And in some way, this thought makes sense. After all, our sins are worthy of such a reaction from a Holy God: Rejected in shame….

If one sees their heavenly Father like this, there are basically two responses: One response is to try harder hoping to gain his approval- we’ll promise to do better, that we won’t struggle with the same sins and struggles and that next time, we’ll CATCH THAT BALL!

But of course, when we drop the ball again and again and again, if we’re honest, it’s only a matter of time before we realize this sort of Father is impossible to please by our efforts. That leads to the second response: We run! Like the prodigal in the famous story, we’ll move as far away from home as possible. We’ll sin and justify it because somewhere in the back of our minds we think our Father will never be satisfied anyway.

The younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. -Luke 15:13

But, thanks be to God, this is NOT the Christian’s Father….

A few days after I heard my friend’s story, I was sitting at my 8 & 9 year old boys’ final basketball game. Though in this league, they weren’t actually playing for a championship, in my boys’ minds that was exactly what this game was: Game 7 of the NBA Finals!

Throughout the game, my sons’ team was behind (not by much, but in games for kids this age, it doesn’t take much). Thankfully, near the end of the game our team had fought back and were just 1 point behind with under a minute left. The other team had the ball, when suddenly, the ball was stolen! A small lanky kid with big goggles had it and was awkwardly dribbling down the court! It seemed all the other team’s players were trying to swipe at the ball, but somehow this lanky kid kept on dribbling- past the half-court line (!), past the three point line (!), just past the free throw line! And then, with about 30 seconds left in the game, he turns around, and throws up one of the weirdest looking shots I’ve ever seen… and defying all known laws of the universe…. IT WENT IN!!!!!

I’ll never forget what happened next: As soon as that lanky, goggle-eyed kid made the shot, the first thing he did was turn to look at his Dad. The father was clapping exuberantly and the look on his face exuded so much joy, so much pride, and so much love for his son! The kid jumped up and down in celebration, grinning from ear to ear.

Can you imagine your heavenly Father looking at you the same way? Can you imagine a God who always and at all times looks at you not with disgust or embarrassment over your dropped balls or missed shots, but sees you always as if you’ve caught the ball and made the game winning shot.

Christian, the good news for you is that your heavenly Father does look at you that way. Though you have dropped the ball, and missed the shot countless times, He is not mad at you.

He is not disappointed in you. He is not disgusted with you. Because Jesus (God’s Son) always hit the shot, because Jesus endured the pain of the cross and declared “It Is Finished!”, because this Son rose from the dead in victory, the game is over; He has won for you! He is your advocate, seated on the throne interceding on your behalf. He has washed you of your sins in baptism and He has given you His body and blood at the Table. Therefore, your heavenly Father rejoices over your lanky, uncoordinated, ball-dropping, shot-missing self as if you’ve never missed a shot at all. As David Powlison says, “God doesn’t love you just the way you are. He loves you just the way Jesus is.”

What is the reaction to a Father like this? Well, it looks like humility. It looks like trust. It looks like…. a celebration!

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20-24 ESV)