Back in 2010, I had the privilege of preaching my first and so far only Sunday morning sermon to a church congregation (of adults that is; I’ve done a ton of sermons in children’s church settings). This was a dream come true for me and I am still very appreciative of the pastor who shared his pulpit with me. I called it “The Ultimate Father” and I preached it on Father’s Day. It is a combination of two stories: first, it tells how God is a father to us; and secondly, it is the story of how I became a Christian. Since it has been five years, I have updated some of the date references and revised it. It has headings and bold lettering at points because I wrote it in that format to help with my preaching of the main points. I hope that it is encouraging to you.
What is God the Father like?
John 14:8-11 says:
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
Did you notice the two things that Jesus focused on in that passage? Jesus shows us most clearly the heart of our Heavenly Father through His words and His works…the miracles. So, I want to walk through the path of my life, and show you through God’s word the Bible and His works in my life, what God our Father is like.
1) The Father who knew me: my childhood
Psalm 139:16 says: your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
I didn’t know who my heavenly Father was yet but He knew me fully before I was even created and He had a plan prepared for my entire life as He did yours. God blessed me with a good mother even though I didn’t know who God was yet.
Matthew 5:45 says He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
That’s talking about what’s known as common grace, all of the many, many ways that God blesses everyone, whether they believe in Him or not, whether they obey Him or not; simply because He loves them all very much. Basic things like life, food, water, health, a home, a job, friends, etc. are His common grace to us all.
His giving heart
One of the strongest characteristics of our Heavenly Father is His giving heart. It’s one of the ways in which He most clearly shows His love toward us. I know that as a father, one of the things that I most love to do for my kids is to give them things to show them that I love them, but my problem is that I would want to spoil them if I could and that’s bad.
Matthew 7:9-11 says: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Look at how He shows His love through His grace (giving us what we haven’t earned) and mercy (not giving us the judgment that we have earned). Our heavenly Father is very generous, but He is also wise; He is able to richly bless us in many ways without spoiling us.
2) The adoptive Father
When I was ten my mom got married to David McHenry and I had an earthly dad for the first time. He legally adopted me so that I may not be his son by blood but I am by law and every other practical and real way, and that means the world to me. He’s been my father for thirty nine years now and I am very glad to have him in my life.
Ephesians 1:5-6 says: He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will—to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.
John 1:12-13 says: Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
1 John 3:1 says: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
As Christians, God has adopted us into His family and that’s a very beautiful thing.
3) The hidden father
When I was a teenager in junior high, I decided to become an atheist after doing the very “objective, scientific method” of yelling into the sky “God hello!” and getting no answer.
Psalm 14:1 says “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
or in the immortal words of that “wise” man from 1980s television, Mr. T, “I pity the fool.”
Psalm 19:1-3 says:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Romans 1:20 says:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
There are two ways in which God reveals Himself to us. The first is through what is known theologically as general revelation—“through things such as the physical universe – God uses the laws and nature of this universe to create or influence events to display His existence, power, order, rightness, wisdom, knowledge, greatness, supremacy and goodness”, to quote that “great” source of religious knowledge, Wikipedia.
His fingerprints are everywhere on creation, if we look for them. I think that it’s impossible to look at the incredible complexity, order, and beauty in the universe, like sunsets, rainbows, the stars and galaxies, the power of waves crashing on the beach, the laughter of children, the taste of a good pepperoni pizza, and not see that there is Someone powerful, creative, artistic, and loving behind it all.
That’s general revelation and it’s a good start for knowing about God in very basic ways, but it doesn’t give us enough information to really know Him personally, and especially not enough for salvation. That is what special revelation is for. This is where God supernaturally reveals much more of Himself directly to us, and that is what the Bible and miracles are for. But I didn’t know that when I was a teenager.
I think that deep down, I knew then that there really was a God; I just didn’t know who He was; and as a result my life seemed meaningless and empty. This led me into depression and a brief period of feeling suicidal. Fortunately, God kept me from really harming myself.
4) The false father
Then I started looking for God in all the wrong places and got mixed up in the teachings of not one but two different religious cults. I thought that Jesus was an “ascended master” just like Buddha, Muhammad and Confucius; someone who had attained the “Christ consciousness” through meditation, chanting, and extreme asceticism; so I sold my extensive comic book collection, got rid of a lot of other stuff, and spent my spare time listening to mediation tapes and reading the materials of these two groups. I soon started talking and acting a lot like Mr. Spock from “Star Trek,” doing only things that I thought were based purely on logic, such as saying “Recreation serves no useful purpose, therefore I will not participate in it” and it drove my parents nuts, especially my dad.
Colossians 2:8 says: See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Well, that’s exactly what happened to me. Things got worse and worse between my parents and I until one day at dinner, I refused to eat a piece of ham that was mostly fat and that was the breaking point for my dad. Now you need to know about my dad that he was not a violent man in any way and that he only punished my brother and I in the typical ways when we really deserved it like being grounded or the very rare spanking when we were younger; but this one time, he lost it. He was not a Christian at this time, he was incredibly frustrated and he probably had no idea what to do to get this stubborn, strangely-behaving, teenager to obey him, so he chased me around the house, knocked me down, and hit me in the face.
I was shocked and, for the first time in my life, scared to death of what my dad might do; so I did the only thing that I knew to do since I thought that my life was in danger; I ran away from home.
5) The Father of Truth
God sometimes likes to use unusual circumstances to get our attention, like Moses and the burning bush or Jonah and the whale. Now here’s where God stepped in more directly to deal with me.
I went to the home of the leader of the local branch of one of the two cults whose teachings that I was following, but he wouldn’t help me. I ended up at a place called The Diogenes youth center. It was basically a place for juvenile delinquents or for kids whose home life was so bad that the police put them there for their own safety. One of the counselors there was a Christian, even though the place was not a religious center at all, and he shook my world up by asking me one simple question, which to this day is one of the most important questions that anyone can ever ask:
“How do you know that what you believe is true?”
When he said that, my jaw dropped. I had no answer for him. It had never even occurred to me to question the teachings of these cultists. Suddenly the spiritual rug had been pulled out from under my feet and I was in a freefall, not knowing what to think about God.
Then God arranged for my parents, who were not Christians yet, to have me meet with a man from an organization called the Christian Research Alliance. His name was Chris MacDonald and he showed me that what I had believed made no sense and that even the leader of one of the two cults didn’t even follow her own teachings but was obviously in it just for the money. So, I had my whole worldview wiped out in a couple of meetings. I was a blank slate, not knowing what to believe or who to trust since I had been lied to about the most important things.
John 14:6 says: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I was about to find this out.
6) The words of the Father
Chris gave me two little books: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Between Heaven and Hell by a catholic philosophy professor named Peter Kreeft. Those two books showed me for the first time that biblical Christianity made sense and had the best answers to all of the ultimate questions about life and God. Around that same time, a man from the Gideons International ministry gave me a little orange New Testament in front of my high school, and I started to read it daily as I rode on the bus to and from school. For the first time, I was getting part of the Special revelation, the spiritual truth about God that I had been craving for so long.
Our lives are not accidents, and there are no coincidences; everything happens for a purpose; and God was orchestrating events in my life to draw me to Him.
For the first time in my life I went to a Bible study. It was with a bunch of college students that I didn’t know and I ended up sitting right next to the guitar player. I sat there feeling very uncomfortable, not knowing any of the songs they sang but I experienced such an overwhelming feeling of love that I was blown away by it. I don’t remember any of what the Bible study was about but I’ll never forget that intense feeling of love.
Months went by and I was wanting to become a Christian, to give my life to Christ and let Him save me from my sins and be my Lord and Savior, and I even wrote in the back of my little orange New Testament that I did in July of 1983 but I did not tell anyone; and it was like there was a part of me that was holding back, that didn’t quite fully trust Jesus yet.
7) The Patient Father
2 Peter 3:9 says: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Jeremiah 31:3 says: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
God was patient and loving with me, as He is with all of us, never forcing us to follow Him. He knew that it would take time to gain my trust.
Finally in September of 1983, the Billy Graham crusade came to Sacramento and was held at Cal Expo. Sitting there on the race track in a metal folding chair, surrounded by thousands, when the invitation came, I felt like I was all alone, just Jesus and I, and that if I didn’t accept His invitation then, that it would be easier and easier to reject it in the future until I would never know salvation or a real relationship with my Heavenly Father. So, I got up, half-blinded by tears, stumbling and knocking over the metal chairs in front of me, and walked forward at the Billy Graham crusade and finally gave my life totally to Jesus.
Luke 15:20 says: So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
My Heavenly Father was waiting for me to come home to Him and ran to meet me at that racetrack.
8) The Corrective Father
Relatively early in my walk with God, just three years after becoming a Christian, I had to learn a very hard lesson.
Hebrews 12:5-11 says: And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
In 1986, I was going to Bible college, wanting to become a pastor, when I fell into a terrible period of sin. I had to drop out of college in disgrace near the beginning of my second year. I could not be regularly participating in a sinful activity, rebelling against one of God’s most important standards, and try to be a spiritual leader to others. That would have been a disaster. God knew what was best for me and I faced the worst possible consequence for my sin. My career plan was stopped, my life’s work dream was dead (I thought) and I was humiliated because of my sin. My Heavenly Father disciplined me because He loved me.
Even in the midst of His disciplining me, He was still merciful and gracious. At one point, I had hurt my back and it was causing me a lot of pain, to the point that I was walking around slowly and bent over like an old man. I was in pain and I was feeling incredibly guilty because I was trying to serve God, training to become a pastor, and yet was commiting a grevious sin, breaking God’s law while training to become a teacher of it to others, the ultimate hypocrisy. I had a prayer class where we learned the different ways to pray in the first half of the class and then actually prayed for the second half of the class. I was feeling like God didn’t love me and that I didn’t deserve His love because of my sin and physical pain so I prayed silently an incredibly specific prayer that went something like this: “God, if you still love me, then send a second year student who I don’t know to come lay hands on me and pray for me, and heal my back.” This was a prayer that I prayed silently, in my head, but very shortly after I prayed it, a man I didn’t know got up, came over to me and laid his hand on my shoulder and started praying for me. Immediately my back felt much better but it was not completely healed. A little later, the man asked me if I was o.k. and I told him that my back was hurt so he called the rest of the class over and several people laid hands on me, prayed for me, and my back was completely healed to the point that, after class, I jumped down a set of stairs and carried a heavy box of books for my teacher to test and prove that it had really been healed. God did this to show strongly that He still loved me in the midst of my sin.
The wonderful thing is that God redeemed my very big mistake, taught me a lot through it, and took the broken pieces of my life and turned it into something very good.
When I was newly married and my wife was expecting our first child, God did something special to show that He was our Provider. There was a point where we only had eight dollars in the checking account and my temporary work with Mervyns department store as Christmas help had ended. We were desperate. In frustration, my wife yelled out loud “God, hello?!” just then the phone rang and someone from the Sacramento public library called and offered me an $800 per month job which provided for all of our needs at the time.
9) The rest of the Father’s family
Over the course of my thirty-plus years as a Christian, I have been an active member of six churches, both small and very large. I discovered that I am part of a huge spiritual family of imperfect but good and loving people who are all at different stages in their own personal journeys with our Heavenly Father. I have been blessed time and again through the loving words and deeds of pastors and my spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ and seen God’s love in action through them.
1 Timothy 3:15 says—if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
Ephesians 2:19 says: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,
Galatians 6:10 says: Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Time passed and I ended up having six children and seven granddaughters (with an eighth on the way). For many years I have done ministry on a voluntary and paid basis; and God even helped me to finally finish my Bible college degree in 2007 and so the dream of serving God in ministry did not die; it has just changed. I don’t need a paycheck from a church to fulfill my dream of serving God and loving people. This is something that all who love Jesus can do.
In conclusion, I want to leave you with two closing verses and a final thought:
2 Corinthians 6:18 says “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 says “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
Encouraging, comforting, and urging is how God treats his children. This is what our heavenly Father is like.
Sometimes I still want badly to just see my heavenly Father directly. Well, a few years ago He gave me a special gift in regard to this (and it only took six kids for me to see this) of realizing how the love that my son has for me, wanting to spend time with me, give me hugs, wanting me to talk with him every night before he goes to sleep, is exactly the way that I feel about my heavenly Father.
Here’s the most special part to me: the way that I feel about my son and all of my children, is that I love spending time with them, listening to them, talking with them, playing with them, giving them gifts whenever I can, hoping and trying to plan the best for them, showing them that I love them, and loving them so much that I would not hesitate to die for them if I had to.
My Heavenly Father showed me that is the very way that He feels about me.
And that is the way that he feels about you too.