Feb 14th 2016

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

As the eighth century B.C. was drawing to a close, the southern kingdom of Israel had King Hezekiah as its king. Unlike the northern kingdom, King Hezekiah had weathered the onslaught of the Assyrians.   The northern kingdom was taken away and into exile by the nation of Assyria, but Hezekiah was able to lead the southern kingdom in such a way that they turned their hearts back to God.  God moved on their behalf.  They weathered this Assyrian storm.  He was responsible for a lot of political and religious reforms in this community.  King Hezekiah was one of the very few really good leaders that the nation of Israel had during this season.  But he got sick.  One of the prophets of the time, Isaiah, came to him and said:  Thus says the Lord, “Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.”  {That’s quite the news to get, right?  Here’s what Hezekiah does. He takes a step back and he prays.  Now, those of you who are people of faith here this morning, who would say you’re a follower of Jesus, that’s probably the same thing you would do.  You’d pray.  Here’s what happened when Hezekiah prayed.  The Lord spoke (through Isaiah)….} ….”Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you.  {So, here you have God in one verse saying, through the prophet, go tell Hezekiah he’s going to die.  Isaiah delivers his message, Hezekiah prays and God says never mind.  I will heal you.}  …On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, and I will add fifteen years to your life.  I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” (2 Kings 20:1-6)

I don’t know if I like this verse, to be honest with you.  This verse invites us into the tension that many of us feel in prayer.  This verse, in many ways, is the reason that if we were to take a survey of every single person in this room that follows Jesus and ask how many struggle with prayer…..THIS verse would be one of the reasons that many of us would raise our hand and say, “I do!”  Because our struggle with prayer is not that we think God is incapable or unable.  That’s not our struggle with prayer.  Most of our struggle with prayer, if we’re honest, is that we firmly, on the very soul-core level of who we are, believe that God is ABSOLUTELY able, but often doesn’t answer in the same way He answered King Hezekiah.  So hearing that we’re starting a six to seven week series on prayer, you’re probably thinking oh, wonderful!  As if I didn’t feel guilty enough!  All of us, at some level, struggle with prayer.  Listen, the standard is pray continually!  So all of us, let’s just admit, have fallen short.  We have this struggle….we believe, God, you’re able and yet sometimes You say no.  Sometimes we pray for the same type of healing that Hezekiah received and You say no.  There’s those of you in this room that have prayed God, would you heal this marriage?  And it’s ended in divorce.  There’s some that have prayed for that job to come through and it just never did.  There’s some of you here on Valentine’s Day and you go some of my deepest, heart-felt pain is around “Single Awareness Day” (thank you very much for bringing it up again). Because you’ve prayed.   You’ve asked God to bring somebody into your life that you can love and share life with.  The answer up to this point has been “no.”  That’s the tension that many of us feel in prayer.  We believe God is good and yet sometimes His answer isn’t the same as it was for Hezekiah.

Then, if we were to turn the other side of the coin and share testimonies, we could light this place up with times that God has said “yes” and He’s come through and He’s moved in beautiful, masterful, mysterious, miraculous ways and displayed his power and his glory through healing or healing of a relationship or repair of a soul.  He’s done it!  Just a few weeks ago, our elders had the chance to pray over somebody in the church who was sick and their job was going downhill.  We prayed over them and anointed them with oil and God healed!! It was awesome!  Praise the Lord!  Even now, they’re starting to do scientific studies.  Since 1980, there’s been over 130 scientific studies that have proven that prayer works.  We would be able to go around and we’d be able to say yes, it does, amen…..and then there’s some lingering questions in our mind, aren’t there, where it’s like why didn’t You move then?  And why did you let this person that I love die?  And why did you let that relationship end?  And, God, I just….there’s some questions that I just…I just don’t get.  They have a tendency to make prayer really, really hard, but we know on a deep soul level that prayer is something that is just wired into us as human beings.  Religious or irreligious, people…studies have shown even atheists pray.  They do. Obviously to a very different God, but nonetheless.

So, Jesus had this distinct way of praying.  We know this because on one occasion, his disciples come up to him and in Luke 11:1, Dr. Luke records this for us.  They come up to him and say:  Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.    There was something different about the way that Jesus prayed.  It wasn’t different THAT he prayed.  The nation of Israel and the people of God were known for being a people of prayer.  In fact, they were taught from a very young age that three times a day you say your daily prayers and part of it was saying the Shema, from Deuteronomy 6, every single day.  They were people of prayer.  But the way Jesus prayed was different.  The way Jesus prayed sparked his disciples’ intrigue and touched a piece of their soul that they couldn’t seem to shake because it was so different.  I don’t know if this is what I would have asked Jesus to teach me how to do.  Listen, they’ve seen him walk on water.  Why not ask, “Jesus, will you teach us how to walk on water?”  He’s turned water into wine.  Some of you would ask:  God, would you teach us how to do that?  He spit in mud, rubbed it on somebody’s face, they wiped it off and they were able to see.  That would be cool!  But his disciples don’t ask him how to do any of that.  They don’t ask him how to preach.  They don’t ask him how to run the church.  They simply ask him, “Teach us how to pray.”  Because at the very core-base level of who Jesus was and of the ministry he did, lay this foundation of prayer.  He snuck off in the morning.  He would tuck away during the day and the way that he prayed elicited this response from his disciples: we need to get in on that.  We need to learn from you, Jesus, what it looks like to talk to God.

Dallas Willard, the great philosopher and theologian, says: “Prayer is simply talking to God about what you’re doing together.”  I love that.  But it’s at the very core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it like this: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”  It is how we live as followers of Christ.  We can’t be followers of Christ without prayer.  So the disciples ask Jesus, “Will you teach us how to pray?”  His response is yes, but first, let me teach you how NOT to pray.  Here’s what he says on how not to pray.  Matthew 6:5-6 — And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.   So there are people, when they start to pray, you know they are praying so you can hear them pray.  You’ve probably been in prayer groups with these people.  They use a lot of big words that you never hear them use outside of prayer!  But here’s what Jesus is saying.  In prayer we have this tendency to put on a show.  In prayer we have a tendency to try to hide from God who we honestly are.  And it’s silly, because He knows anyway!!!  If you’re having an absolutely terrible day and your life is a mess, you can tell God that in prayer.  If you’re struggling with anger and fear and regret, you can tell God that in prayer.  No need to wear a mask and pretend you have it all together.  He knows you don’t.  So you can be honest about that.   Jesus says don’t pray so that other people can hear you and go (clapping) that’s brilliant prayer.  That’s ridiculous!  Just be honest.  That’s it.

He follows up with: And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  If I say enough stuff, God will respond.  Have you ever heard people where prayer is sorta for them?  It’s like the magical equation and they have to get it right for God to be the divine jackpot where he goes cha-ching! you said it right!!  Where the words have to be in the right order and they have to say the exact right thing and Jesus goes that’s stupid!  He’s God and He knows what you need before you ask him.  Hey, hey, hey, prayer is not trying to pry something out of God’s closed hands that He reluctantly hands over because you say it right.  Prayer is stepping in to receive something that is already ours from God’s heart to us.  That’s what prayer is.  It’s not trying to pry something out of God’s hands, it’s stepping into something that is already ours.

So, in response to how do we pray, Jesus says let me show you how not to pray.  Don’t be dishonest.  Don’t pray like a hypocrite and don’t feel like you need to say everything under the sun.  God knows what you need.  He’s dialed in!  In contrast, pray like this.  And he gives us what we call the “Lord’s prayer.”  The most famous prayer of all time.  Tim Keller in his great book on prayer says: “Not only is this the prayer most uttered over the course of history, but that these words put together in this way are the phrase that have been uttered the MOST since human beings have walked the earth.”  Wow!  Here’s what Jesus says:  Pray then like this:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed (or make holy) be your name.”    Start with that:  Our Father.  Here’s the thing.  For any Jewish person hearing Jesus pray, they would have been like whoa, whoa, whoa, Messiah-boy!  You cannot say that to God.  In the Old Testament, there are about a dozen times where God says that he is the father of Israel, but he is never addressed as such.  It’s never Father, hear our pray.  In fact, before Jesus utters these words, it was never even a blip on somebody’s radar screen that they could have gone and approached God as father.  Ever.  The fact that Jesus says let your greeting, let your initial interaction with God be simply two words, “our Father,” would have gone against everything culturally that it meant to address somebody of prominence and power.  The more important somebody was, the longer the greeting was when they were greeted.  When Caesar Augustus came into their town, he would have been greeted, “Oh, Caesar the Great, son of god.  You have built this!  You’ve done this!  You’ve won this war!”  You’ve heard some people get introduced this way, right?  Their resumé is read.  God says, “Not all that into that.  I know who I am.  You don’t need to remind me.  Just address me as our Father.”  Before Jesus ever gets into the mechanics of prayer and before Jesus ever starts explaining this is how you pray, He wants to teach you who you pray to.  I think that’s where a lot of us go wrong.

Back in the day, I took golf lessons.  You would never know it if you went golfing with me today.  I did.  I assure you.  The first lesson my coach says to me let me see how you hold the club.  I’m like let’s work on…I’ve got issues here….major issues….I’ve got a slice that will not stop.  He says, “Let’s see how you hold the club.”  I held the club and he goes that’s way off.  Here’s what he told me.  If you don’t change how you hold the club, regardless of how good your swing gets, you will never be a good golfer.  This is Jesus saying to his disciples alright, let’s just talk first and foremost about how we hold this thing we call prayer.  At a base level, how do we approach God.  He says you approach God as Father.  And knowing the heart of the Father is the first and foremost, the epitome, of what it means to be a person of prayer.  It what it means to be shaped by prayer. It’s how we become people whose prayer is powerful and significant, where it changes our lives and the people’s lives around us.  By approaching, first and foremost…..if we only get this right….we HAVE to get it right….it’s the foundation of it all…..the heart of the Father shapes people of prayer.  If we don’t get that about God…if we don’t understand that, we will miss the entire point.

Our “Father” is an Aramaic word.  It’s the word “abba.”  It’s so significant that they didn’t translate it into the Greek, they just left it.  It was this term of endearment.  It was a term of intimacy.  It was a term of respect. It was a term of relationship.  The best English translation that we have of this Aramaic word “abba” is “daddy.” Jesus says this is what your God is like.  You can approach Him as daddy and it’s different than other way of prayer the world had ever seen.  I love the way that Tim Keller puts it:  “The power of our prayers then, lies not primarily in our effort and striving, or in any technique, but rather in our knowledge of God.”   It’s not how we do the mechanics of it that’s really important, it’s simply who is God.  In turn, this is what I’ll call the Abba Approach.  The Abba Approach to prayer, the Daddy Approach to prayer, produces people of abundant hope. You show me a follower of Christ who is hopeful to their very core and I will show you a person who has learned to view God as Father.  You show me a person who’s free of anger and I will show you a person who’s confident that this is their Father’s world.  You show me a person not tied up with consumeristic things of this world and I will show you a person who’s convinced that their Father knows exactly what they need.  You show me a person free of anxiety and I will show a person who prays “Father.”  I don’t know that there’s any more important thing that we can learn.

But we have a huge problem.  Many of the fathers that we had, who shaped this word for us, let us down. Maybe the epidemic is no more significant in our culture.  Back in 1994, they started this “Fatherhood Initiative,” because we felt like, as a country, that fatherhood is on the decline and it’s tied to so many key indicators of what it looks like to have this successful, vibrant life.  We need to do something about it.  Here’s the deal:  You and I both know this that our father…..and my dad’s here and he was a wonderful dad.  He was a great dad, but he was an imperfect dad.  This is a dose of humility for every father in this room….this just in…will you look up at me for a second….you’re an imperfect father! There’s gonna be things that we say, there’s gonna be things that we do, where we let our kids down and it’s gonna shape the way that they view the world around them and it’s gonna shape the way that they view God.  Some of us had wonderful fathers and because of it we stepped into the world confidently.  Feeling like the wind was blowing at the back of our sails. Then there are some of you that had fathers that weren’t there, that were absent.  And there’s no one person that shaped your life more.  Either with the love that he displayed, your father shaped the way that you viewed the world.  Or in the hurt that he laid on you, he shaped the way you viewed the world.  Men and women respond to this differently.  For women…it’s usually if we have issues in the core of our soul with our father (father wounds we’ll often call it)….it exhibits itself in this need to be loved.  There’s going to be different guys that you probably interact with.  There’s going to be…tell me I’m loved, tell me I’m okay, show it to me and display it to me.  For guys, it’s a little bit different.  For guys, it’s I’m going to prove that I’ve got this handled. I’m going to prove that I’m okay.  I’m going to make enough money, I’m going to take care of the people in my life, I’m going to do all the things that weren’t done for me and I’m going to prove that I’m okay.  At the very base level of who we are in our soul, we wrestle with the way we view the world in light of what our dads taught us.  Donald Miller, the great author, wrote a book a while back called Father Fiction.  In it he talks about growing up without a dad.  He says: “But in so many ways I’m still that kid, not sure exactly how to be emotionally intimate with a girl without feeling weak, not sure my work is good enough, not sure if the people who are clapping would really like me if they got to know me.”   Regardless of how good our fathers were, there’s still a piece of us that goes yeah, that’s a struggle for me.

So when Jesus proposes pray our father, what does he have in mind?  What is the Father like that we are invited to pour our hearts out to in prayer?  As we’ve said, even if we had the best father in the world, they were imperfect.  Turn over to Luke 15:17-20 and I want to spend the next few moments looking at what God the Father’s heart is like towards his people.  In Luke 15, let’s let Jesus define the term “father,” what is God the Father like, because we could go back and find a ton of examples in the Old Testament.  But in this parable, Jesus gives us this zoomed-in picture of the Father’s heart towards you.  And when we pray, THIS is who we pray to.  The backstory is Jesus telling this parable to a group of Pharisees about a father who has two sons. The younger son says to his dad, “I’d like my share of the inheritance.”  It’s akin to saying to your dad, you’re better off to me dead, thank you very much, just give me your stuff.  The father gives him his stuff.  He goes off and blows it all on licentious living, on prostitutes, on getting drunk.  He comes to his senses and he wants to go back to his father and to work on his ranch.  Here’s the way the story goes, verse 17:  But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘  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.  For a patriarch, in Jesus’ day, to pick up their robe and run would have been an act of humiliation, especially if you’re running after or towards your son who had humiliated you in front of the whole town.  But the father runs because there was this tradition back in Jesus’ day, where if something like this happened, somebody from the town would get a clay pot and when they saw this person coming back down the road, they would take the clay pot and run up to them, throw it down on the ground and break it, as if to say you’ve broken relationship here, you are no longer welcome.  The father looking, sees his son and runs, because he says not in my house!  It’s not going down like that in my house!  My affection for my son is NOT dissipated because he left.  Here’s what you see in the heart of the Father.  In our coming home, regardless of where we’ve been, friend, hear this today….regardless of where you’ve been, regardless of what you’ve done….when you come home, the Father’s response is his very presence!

I love this son….I would have this speech ready.  Anybody with me?  I’m going to try to win him over with my rhetoric here and Dad, here’s the deal, Dad.   I am unworthy to be called your son.  Which by the way, look up at me a second, is TRUE.  He is undeserving.  But here’s what God says back to him, here’s what the Father’s heart says back to him:  Just because you’re unworthy does not mean I view you as having no worth.  Those are two very different things.  He embraces him and he kisses him and he loves on him and he speaks into every single issue that we have….whether it’s with our earthly father, the home that we grew up in, or just things that have gone on in our life that have gotten deep down into our soul that when the people that we relied on most weren’t there when we needed them the most.  Where people that were suppose to protect us stood by when we were abused.  Where the people that were suppose to step in and were suppose to defend us were preoccupied and they were off on the sidelines.  What the Father’s heart is towards you is when you approach Him He’s there.  Some of you grew up with parents that were present, but not there.  Some of you ARE parents who are present, but not there.  You’re HERE but you’re not THERE!  Here’s what we see about the Father’s heart:  When we approach Him, He’s there!  When we approach God, when we draw near to Him in prayer, we operate under this deep-seated, soul-level conviction that before we ever wanted to meet with Him, our Father was running towards us!

It says: …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.’    What we see is that OUR weakness and OUR brokenness is met with our Father’s welcome.   That God’s affection for you is not tied to your perfection in your behavior.  I’ll say that again:  God’s affection is not tied to your perfection.  Here’s why that’s beautiful.  This is for free this morning: You are imperfect….but Christ is perfect!  By faith, we receive His righteousness.  He took all of our sin that we might become the righteousness of God.  He gives us His righteousness, so we stand pure and holy and spotless and blameless before Him.  So many of us are still trying to define ourselves by our resumé.  We go this is what I’ve done and this is what I’ve done, this is what I’ve done, God, aren’t I awesome?  What we’re doing is undermining the very foundation that we stand on, that it’s by His grace and His mercy and His goodness ALONE.  Maybe I’m just preaching to me.  I don’t know what it is, but I have this desire to be perfect.  I’m harder on me than you could ever be.  I just sense the Father saying, as I go to Him with that, Ryan, I’m running for you before you’re ever coming home.  Ryan, I don’t want the speech, I just want you.  Ryan, confession (look at it in this passage) is not as much for God as it is for you.  As parents, we know this.  Right?  It’s not when our kids say they’re sorry to us that we say we forgive them.  That’s a terrible parent.  We forgive our kids the moment they mess us because we love them and we’re for them.  Their confession is way more for them than it is for us.  It’s the same way with God’s heart towards you.  It’s the same way.  He’s not like well, now I guess I’ll forgive you.  Here’s the thing…when we feel like…..and this plays on…this running home plays on the deepest emotional feelings in the very core of who we are….will I be rejected if I’m really known?  Will I be rejected if I’m really honest?  Religion is based around let me do so I’m not rejected.  Christianity is based around Christ is perfect and I receive His perfection and I receive the Father’s welcome.  In every season, every time.  There’s no footnote there, like you could mess up bad enough that His perfection wouldn’t cover you.  NO!  His affection is not based on your perfection!  Praise the Lord!

But when I don’t believe that, I start to wear a mask…with everybody around me and with God.  I start to wear a mask that says I need to perform in order to be accepted.  A few years ago, there was this great movie that came out called Whiplash.  It was about a drummer who has this maniacal conductor.  He (the conductor) says to him, in this very poignant scene of the movie, “‘Good job’ are the two most dangerous words in the English language.”  I think a lot of us….the movie is this beautiful juxtaposition of what we think God is like and then what He’s actually like, but I think a lot of us just assume God says “you could never live up.”  So we approach God with a mask.  We approach God with fear, but luckily for you, you have not been given a spirit of fear or timidity.  You’ve been given a spirit of boldness and power.  The spirit of God that lives in you says that you are a son of the Most High…a daughter of the Most High God.  You’re no longer a slave to fear, you are welcomed by the Father.  His welcome overrides your weakness and your brokenness and your failure every single time. This just in: You don’t need to approach God only when you nail it.  Even when you nail it, you probably haven’t nailed it as good as you thought you did.  You can just approach Him because He loves you and He’s for you.  I love it when we’re convinced of God’s welcome and know we’re freed to approach Him in our weakness.  That He approaches us with celebration, not condemnation, and treats us as sons, not as servants.  But you can hear me say that all day long.  You can take notes and write it down.  You can memorize it.  But until you go and lay yourself bear before God in prayer and until you hear Him say it, it won’t transform you.  My soul’s longing for you is that you would hear the whisper of God over you.  That you’d hear what Larry Crabb, in his book Papa Prayer, says:  “I’m starting to hear, really hear the voice of God.  And I’m realizing He likes me.”  {A lot of you are convinced God loves you because He has to, but that He doesn’t really like you.  And it’s a lie from the pit of hell, friend.  The enemy loves that you believe it.}   “….He likes me.  He loves me and speaks to me.”

The parable goes on and in verse 22 it says: But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, {It was the sign that he’s back in the family.} 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 {Don’t you love the heart of the father in this?  You’ve got to hear it.  You’ve got to feel it.  In all of his screwed up-ness, the son comes home and he’s met with this affection from his father.  The same affection that YOU’RE met with.  Every time you go to God in prayer.  You pray to the Father who says: Your pursuit is met with my presence.  Your weakness is met with my welcome.  And my embrace is accompanied by my grace. I am better to you than you could ever possibly imagine, He says.  So we don’t need to hold back.  We don’t need to be dishonest.  We don’t need to play games.  Your Father knows exactly what you need.  That’s what Jesus says.  He says the Gentiles, they sorta play around with prayer, but us, followers of Jesus, your Father knows what you need so you can run to him at any time and receive his welcome, receive his presence and live under his grace.

I’ve asked my friend and our church accountant, Jesse Bean to come and share a little part of his story and his testimony with you.  The story about the father he had growing up and God’s redemption and grace over his life.  Will you come up, Jesse?   Morning.  So the story of my earthly father started out in a pretty normal way. I grew up in a Christian home and had a father who was the coach of my soccer team, my Boy Scout leader and raised me decently….as well as he could.  But as I grew up and moved on to high school, my parents separated, divorced and my father’s life began to go down hill.  Went downhill relatively quickly and significantly.  He got into a dysfunctional relationship.  Some patterns of addiction.  Just poor financial management.  Unstable job situation.  He got to a point where he felt there was no way out.  He ended up committing a heinous crime.  About 12 years ago, my father committed murder.  He was eventually convicted and he is spending the rest of his life in prison.

The story of my early fatherhood was broken, pretty dramatically.  I responded for a long time…..although subconsciously for a while….I developed a fear of becoming my father.  I lived with a deep fear that his identity was who I was.  I was in the Marines at the time, so I responded in the way I knew how, which was to toughen up, which was to bear it.  Which was to do everything I could to prove that this was not true.  I said I cannot and I will not become my father.  So I started working hard.  I graduated from college and got a good job.  I proved myself financially stable.  I cultivated great friendships where I had accountability.  I lived the Christian life.  If you knew me back then, you would have thought that I was probably doing okay.  But under the surface, deep down, I was absolutely terrified.  I was terrified of who I would become.  I love the story “Lord of the Rings.”  Aragorn, my favorite character, is of the line of the kings.  If you know that story, he’s of the line of Isildur, the king who was weak and could not destroy the ring.  The most powerful line in that to me was him saying, “I feel that in my blood. That same blood flows in me. That same weakness.”  

This eventually reached a breaking point in my life and that came when I got married.  I felt responsible for somebody else’s life.  I knew that I could not do it.  I knew that all of my striving, all of my work, all of my effort, could not delay what, in my heart, I knew was most true, which was that I was going to fail.  There was no victory.  I was 30 years old and completely exhausted and desperate.  Through that process, I did eventually reach out for help.  I went through a process of some pretty intense counseling for about a year.  Through that experience and some others……the Lord changed me, He changed who I am.  I grew up a Christian and I used to KNOW that what we sang about in worship and what the Lord has spoken through Ryan….I used to know that it was true.  But I got to experience that it was true.  My heavenly Father reached down to me and what He said to me was: what is most true about you, my son, is that you are NOT a child of a murderer.  You are not the son of an addict.  You are not defined by your weakness, your brokenness and your shame.  He said to me, “My son, you are beautiful.  You are worthy and in you I am well pleased.”  Church, it completely changed who I am.  It changed my identity.  It allowed me to move from a place of living in fear to the possibility of living in hope.  Hope not for what I have done, but what has been done for me.  I know that that makes me who I am.  I’m so thankful that in this story of where the Lord is taking me in my life, He has blessed my wife and I with a son.  We’ve got a little four month old (boy) and though…….there is an enemy and there is a liar and it is still a struggle for me to get passed my brokenness.  To remember that my sin doesn’t define me.  I’m thankful to know that I can live in hope.  Hope for my own story and hope for my son.  That if he were here, thirty years from now, sharing the story of his father, it would be very different.  Thank you.

Jesse, thanks for your honesty, for inviting us into your story and for the truth that you shared: this no longer defines me.  Jesus does.

The other day I was on a run on my treadmill and this ad came on for a TV show.  The TV show was entitled “Finding My Father.”  The tagline for show is “in finding my father I’m finding myself.”  They couldn’t be more right.  But they’re just looking for the wrong father.  The truth of the matter, friends, is that when we know the heart of our Father, as Jesse so poignantly reminded us of, it grounds us in what’s most true about who we are. That He is a good, good Father and that we are loved by Him.  That’s who He is and that’s who we are.  Let’s pray.

Before you go running out of here, I want to give you a moment to soak in God’s presence.  To know that regardless of what your past looks like, when you run towards Him, He’s already running towards you.  Do you believe that this morning?  To know that regardless of how weak you are and how broken you are and how much pain is in your life, that when you approach this God, He greets you, not with condemnation, He greets you with welcome.  That your perfection is not the thing that determines His affection for you.  You’re loved by Him, friends.  He not only meets us with embrace, but He gives us good things because He’s a good Father.

So we come to you, King Jesus.  We come to you, Father.  We come to you, Spirit, asking would you drill deep into our soul these truths that they might move from our head down to our heart.  That the fear that we often live in of being rejected might be overshadowed by your love.  That the desire to please and the desire to live in perfection might be snuffed out by our conviction that we have Christ’s perfection over us and He’s given it to us.  Jesus, would you remind us today, afresh and anew, that along with your embrace you shower down your goodness, your grace, your mercy on our lives.  You know what we need and you’re a good Father.  Lord, I just pray healing over some of the hearts in this room today that came in wrestling with past relationships, unmet expectations, a feeling of being unloved and like they’re never going to be good enough.  Convinced the enemy loves that they believe that, Jesus, would you free them this morning by reminding them of who their Father is. It’s in the name of Jesus we pray.  All God’s people said…..Amen.