The Prodigal Father

Rivet your attention on him.  Don’t take your eyes off him.  Watch his actions and reactions.  Listen to him, feel his heart break, sense the depth of his relentless love.  He is the central character of Jesus’ greatest story.

The father.  The spotlight is never off him.  He is at center stage the moment the curtain goes up.  He dominates every scene even when he’s offstage.  The two sons are but supporting characters, vivid contrasts to the father.  Change the scenery and his gracious love still thunders through.  He speaks both when delivering his eloquent lines and when he silently waits.  Who is the father?  Jesus hoped we’d ask.  The father is God; and God is the real prodigal.  This is the parable of the prodigal God!

Shocking?  Perhaps.  But read this story again.  Then check the definition of prodigal.  It means extravagant, lavish, unrestrained, and copious.  That describes the father more than the sons.  Their negative prodigality is set in bold relief to the creative prodigality of the father.  And in the shadows: GOD.

Re-read Luke 15 and remember when the younger son left home to follow his passions while the older brother stayed home to fulfill his familial duty.  How many times has the father sat on his porch at the end of the day, reading the horizon as if it were a line from a psalm of lament, searching for some word of hope?  Remember how loving…

how faithful

how tender

how aggressively he waited for the boy.

Jesus described it this way: 

“When (the returning son) was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck adn kissed him…and… said this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”  Luke 15:20,24

Blessed is the person who glimpses portraits of this kind of acceptance and love in this earthly life.  I am that man.  Blessed beyond merit or measure…

I was hunting elk with my dad and one of my best friends in October of 1999.  We were camped at close to 10,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado near the continental divide.  After a few days of hunting and not seeing many elk, my dad and I needed to come out of the mountains Saturday evening to preach at our respective churches on Sunday morning.  We left Jim in the mountains to continue his hunt for we would be back the next evening to continue our week in the mountains.

I went back to Littleton and my dad went to Dillon.

In Littleton on that Saturday evening—my world imploded.  My infidelity had been discovered while I was up in the mountains hunting.  It was all waiting for me when I got home.  My wife knew, my best friend knew, my senior adult pastor knew…

An “intervention” had been arranged and was awkwardly handled.  My wife took our three boys and moved in with her mother and father.  I was left alone in our house.

All my life had been bent toward being a preacher.  All I knew to do was to preach.  Now I had been found out.  I resigned via an email to my staff, deacons and elders.  And I began to spiral down in darkness.

I did the only thing I knew to do…I went back to the mountains.  I have always been more at home in the mountains than anywhere.   So I carried in some more provisions and went back to my camp.

I packed up my tent and gear and moved higher up into the mountains.  I moved further away from where any man might trek.  I planned to stay there until my food ran out.  I had my gun and could kill what I needed to live.  I wasn’t thinking very clearly.  I had planned to stay for weeks up there.

Somewhere around day two or so I began to panic about how I was going to take care of my family now that I had lost my only means of making a living and was woefully under qualified for virtually anything else but flipping burgers.

It was during this panic induced state that I ran up on the idea of having a ‘hunting accident’.  My life insurance would take care of my boys and wife for years to come.  I was depressed, scared, angry, hurt and alone.  I was getting close to ending it all.  I am not sure it was a suicidal thought as much as it was a practical thought, but a therapist would be able to tell the difference…if there is one.

In a lucid moment I took the 7mm shells and threw them out into the 1 1/2 foot deep snow.  The next morning I packed a light pack and my cell phone and climbed a 12,000 ridge to check my messages.  There were about ten.  Not all of them were civil.  There was a worried one from my wife, asking me to call her.  There were several from angry people.  But there was a message from my dad that changed everything.

When I listened to his message, I could hear the wind blowing in the receiver of his phone and he was breathing heavy.  Here is his message:  “Son, I know that if you don’t want to be found, I will never find you.  But I just wanted you to know that I am up here, walking these ridges looking for you.  I love you, son.”

I sat down beside a carin, a pile of stones, and wept.

I went down the mountain and packed up my camp and walked out of the hills.  At the trailhead as I drove away, I saw my dad driving up in his truck.  I rolled down my window and asked him what he was doing up there.  He said that he had come up everyday—looking for me.  I told him I was going home to see if I still had a wife.  He asked if I wanted him to go with me and I said that I did.  He followed me all the way to Littleton and my wife.

That was over a decade, countless counseling sessions, and rivers of tears ago.  And still, the bride of my youth is with me and we are now enjoying the fruit of repentance, recovery and forgiveness.  In December of 2011 we celebrated 30 years of marriage.

Where did my dad learn how to offer that kind of extravagant love?  I have heard him preach hundreds of sermons in my life,  but none changed my life like the one he walked on those alpine ridges of Colorado.

“When he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion… and… said this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”  Luke 15:20,24

Who is this God we serve?  He is the Prodigal God.

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4 thoughts on “The Prodigal Father

  1. Wow! This is truly a picture of God’s grace and passion for us. You already know that you are blessed, but how awesome it must have been to realize that you are forgiven. Thanks for throwing your guts on the table!

  2. What a great Dad!! If every son had the gift of that kind of father, truly this world would be a different place. I thank God that your sons have you – a tough, honest, sincere, hungry Dad, that knows and lives Grace! And I thank God that our paths have crossed. Keep putting it our there – raw, real, powerful – Thanks!!

  3. This redemptive story will help many people. There are so many people that cant find their way back to the loving Father in heaven. I could just picture your Dad walking the ridges. We go to a church called “Abba’s House” and our goal is to just love people.

  4. Thanks Bill for your kind words. What a generous God we serve. Often the best first place to see that gernerosty is through the flawed lenses he has given us called “Mom and Dad.” I am grateful for both of mine.

    For that matter, I am grateful for yours as well. They were (and are) two of the most important adults in my development as a boy. I loved your Dad. Still love your Mom. I am very sorry I made her cry one time in Sunday School. But I learned through that how to “own my sin” and make amends. My Mom and Dad made me go back Sunday night and apologize for my behaviour. I have never forgotten that day. I am trying to remember and apply the lesson learned.

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