Gifts from the Father

James 1:16-17

Dear Friends in Christ,                                                                                  

   Sometime ago I understand there was an opening in our government’s Central Intelligence Agency – the CIA – that opening, that position was for an assassin—a person who would kill without hesitation those that the CIA deemed a threat to national security.  As you might well imagine, these highly classified positions are hard to fill, and there’s a lot of testing and background checks involved before one can even be considered for such a position.  Well, finally those doing the hiring narrowed the field of applicants down to 3 choices:  2 men and 1 woman.  Before making a final decision, they decided to put the 3 applicants through one last test.  And it would be a tough one!

   The 1st man was shown a large metal door and handed a gun.  One of the agents giving the test said, “We must know that you will follow instructions no matter what the circumstances.”  Then he said, “Behind that door you will find your wife sitting in a chair.  Take this gun and kill her.”  The man got this shocked expression on his face and said, “You can’t be serious!  I could never shoot my own wife.  I love her too much.”  “Well,” said the CIA man, “then you’re definitely not the right one for this job.”

   Then they put the 2nd man through the same test.  Unlike the 1st man, he did manage to take the gun and go into the room, but after about 5 minutes of silence he came out with tears in his eyes.  “I couldn’t do it!” he sobbed, “I just couldn’t pull the trigger and shoot my wife.”  So that took him out of the running.

   Then it was the woman’s turn.  She was given the same instructions—told her husband was behind the door, handed a gun, and instructed to shoot him.  She took the gun, opened the door, and before it even closed, she started firing.  One shot after another until all 13 rounds had been used up.  Then came complete pandemonium—yelling, screaming, crashing, banging on the walls.  This went on for several minutes; then all was quiet.  Finally, the door opened slowly and out walked the woman.  She wiped the sweat from her brow and said, “Did you guys know that gun was loaded with blanks?  I ended up having to beat him to death with the chair.”

   I hope you know that’s not a true story, but as we’ve already noted, today is Father’s Day.  And much like that woman’s husband in that story, it seems as though fathers and really men in general have been taking a beating in our society lately.  But today we want to honor and recognize those men who have taken their responsibilities to their families just as seriously as they’ve taken their responsibilities to God.  But even more than that, we want to recognize and honor the greatest father of them all – our Heavenly Father – and we want to acknowledge some of the many gifts he has given us out of nothing but pure unadulterated love.  Hence the title for my sermon today: “Gifts from the Father.”

   The 1st gift God gives to us that we want to look at today is his name.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a great deal of respect for parents who are willing to adopt a child.  In our own family, Marilyn has a niece who along with her husband adopted 2 boys from Guatemala who just graduated from high school.  She also has a 1st cousin who along with her husband adopted the cutest little girl from China some years ago who is now married and expecting her first child.  Both of these couples brought these children into their home, provided for all of their physical and material needs, and gave them their name.  Without their willingness to do all of that, it’s hard to say what would have eventually happened to them because the countries they came from aren’t always kind to their orphans.

   Well, in a very similar way God has done the same with us.  He has given us his name.  And he did it in a very simple, yet special way.  Employing the most common substance found on the face of the earth, namely, water, he adopted us into his forever family when we were baptized—whether that baptism occurred when we were tiny infants, little children, teenagers, or adults.  On that day God set his seal of ownership upon you.  He claimed you as his own.  He served notice to Satan and all his demon hosts as well as the entire world, “This is now my child, my precious one, my beloved son or daughter.”  And I want you to know, my friends, that there is only thing that can break that tie, that special bond, that intimate connection that God established between you and himself when you were baptized.  Do you know what it is?  It’s YOU.  If you, of your own free will, choose to reject God as your Father, if you choose to turn your back on your baptism and all that it means, you forfeit the blessings that your Father wants to give to you.  But if you remain faithful to him, if you wear his name proudly – child of God, Christian, follower of Christ – then we have this promise from him in Is. 49:15-16:  “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

    So what a precious and priceless gift our Heavenly Father gives us when he gives us his name!  But there’s more!  A 2nd gift he gives us is access to his throne of grace.  Rom. 5:1-2 puts it this way:  “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

   I understand that one of the lasting impressions John F. Kennedy left from his presidency was that of his toddler son’s constant access to his father.  Though heads of state or foreign ambassadors or powerful rulers from other nations might be gathered in the oval office, it wasn’t unusual to find little John on the rug in the center of the room playing with his toys or beneath his dad’s desk, knowing that daddy’s lap was always available if he wanted it or needed it.

   And in a very similar way, we who are children of the King of the universe need to know and understand that that King, who is also our loving Heavenly Father, is never too busy for us.  Though he obviously has some pretty important and major things to attend to as he rules and governs this world and universe, he always has time for one of his precious, blood-bought children to crawl up into his lap, so to speak, and share with him whatever is on his or her mind.  And I don’t know how he does it, but somehow he manages to give his full and undivided attention to that child, as if that child was the only person in the world at that moment.

   I like to refer to this special relationship between our Heavenly Father and one of his children as Abba intimacy.  I call it that because in the New Testament we are invited to call God “Abba” which was the Hebrew equivalent of our English word “Daddy.”  Imagine that!  What a privilege!  What a gift!  To be able to address the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of lords, in this very special and intimate way and know that any hour of the day or night we have access to him.  But there’s more.

   We’ve already talked about how God gives us his name and adopts us as his children.  Now think about this. If we are his children, then do you know what that means?  It means we are also his heirs.  And according to I Peter 1:4, as his heirs we will receive an inheritance that will never perish, spoil, or fade away—kept in heaven for us.

   Some of you have probably seen a story that has made its rounds on the Internet.  I don’t know whether it’s true, but even if it isn’t, it makes a great illustration for this final point of my sermon.  This story is about a wealthy man and his son who loved to collect rare works of art.  They had everything in their collection, from Picassos to Rembrandts to Van Goghs.  But then the time came when the boy was sent off to fight in the Vietnam War.  He was a very courageous soldier and ended up dying in battle while rescuing a fellow soldier.  Needless to say, the father was grief stricken and heartbroken for this son whom he had loved so much.

   Well, about a month after the boy was killed, there was a knock on the father’s door.  When he answered it, he was greeted by a young man who stood there with a large package in his hands.  He said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life.  He saved many lives that day, but as he was carrying me to safety a bullet struck him in the heart and killed him instantly.  He often talked about you and your love for art.”

   Then the young man held out his package.  He said, “I know this isn’t much and I’m not really that great of an artist, but I do believe your son would have wanted you to have this.” 

   The father opened the package.  It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man.  The father’s eyes welled up with tears as he thanked the soldier profusely for this very thoughtful and meaningful gift.  He hung the portrait over the mantle of his fireplace and whenever visitors came to his home, he showed them that portrait first before he showed them any of his other great works of art.

   Well, a few months later the father died, probably of a broken heart.  When it was announced that an auction would be held for his paintings, many wealthy and influential people gathered, excited at the prospect of not only seeing these great paintings up close and personal, but also being able to purchase one or more for their own collections.

   The first painting to be auctioned off though was the portrait of the father’s son.  “Who will start the bidding for this picture?” the auctioneer asked.  “Do I hear $200?  Silence.  How about $100?”  More silence.  No one would open the bidding.  Soon the crowd grew restless.  “We didn’t come to see this painting.  We came to see the Rembrandts and the Van Gogh’s.  Let’s move on to them.”  But the auctioneer persisted.  “The son!  The son!  Who will take the son?”

   Finally a voice came from the back of the room.  It belonged to the longtime gardener of the man and his son.  “I’ll give $10 for the painting,” he said.  Being a poor man, that’s all he could afford.  As the auctioneer tried his best to get others to bid, the crowd shouted back:  “Let the old man have it for $10 and let’s move on to the real works of art.”  Finally, the auctioneer pounded his gavel and announced that the gardener had indeed purchased the portrait of the son for only $10.

   Then the auctioneer laid down his gavel and announced that the auction was over.  He explained that when he was called to conduct this auction, the father had one stipulation in his will which stated that only the painting of the son would be auctioned off.  Whoever bought that painting would then inherit the entire estate, including all the other paintings.  Or to put it another way, whoever took the son got everything.

   And in a very similar way, nearly 2000 years ago God’s Son sacrificed himself so that others like you and I might live.  And much like the auctioneer, God cries out to us today:  “The Son!  The Son!  Who will take my Son?”  And for those who do, for those who take that Son and love that Son and trust that Son as their one and only Savior from sin, their one and only hope, source, and means of salvation, there’s an inheritance waiting for them—an inheritance that consists of nothing less than the Father’s heavenly estate and all that that entails.

   So my friends, as we honor our earthly fathers today, let us also make sure that we pause to honor and give thanks for our Heavenly Father who has given us gifts far greater than we deserve, for he’s given us his name, he’s given us full and complete access to himself at all times, and he’s given us the privilege of inheriting all that his Son earned for us as our Savior.  So let me ask the question one more time: The Son, the Son, who will take the Son?  I pray with all of my heart that every one of you here today will do just that without hesitation and without reservation.  For as you do so, the gifts of the Father that we’ve looked at today and countless others will be yours to enjoy for all eternity.  Amen.