Tom and Janeen were the kind of parents that would make Dr. Laura and James Dobson proud. They had given themselves to the mission of raising their children. They had tackled the task with tenacity. They had prayerfully plotted their course. They willfully walked the way with wit, wisdom, and an unyielding will. They cut no corners. They never compromised their convictions. They were always available, attentive, and affectionate. They were willing to make sacrifices in order to show their commitment to their kids. Tom and Janeen took their kids to Sunday school and church every Sunday. They did without some of the things they would have liked to have had during the year so their children could go to church camp in the summer. They made their home available to the youth group whenever they were called upon. They had memorized the Scripture that says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” They were relying on that promise. Trusting in the promise. Hanging on the promise. The promise looked to be holding its own until one day they began to notice that things were changing.

It was the summer of their daughter’s junior year in high school. She began to have a mind of her own. She became vocal with her disdain for church, God, and everything her father and mother valued for that matter. Within months her scorn for the sacred spread like an infectious disease to her younger brother. Where there use to be four members of the Travis household there now were five. Tom, Janeen, Shelly, Michael, and the fifth member – Rebellion.

Tom and Janeen racked their brains. Where had they gone wrong? What had they failed to do? How could they ever get their children back now that they had begun to drift away?

Janeen continued to try to woo the kids back. She tried to overlook their rebellious behaviors even though deep inside it was breaking her heart. At night, after everyone had gone to bed, she cried. She prayed for God to intervene, but it seemed like her prayers were falling on deaf ears.

Tom on the other hand chose a different path. Tom was a “hands on” kind of guy. He thought maybe the kids had forgotten all that he and their mother had sacrificed for them. He reminded them of their duty to “honor their father and mother.” He told them that he and Janeen had given up much in order to give them a roof over their heads, clothes on their back, and food on their table. He said, “You don’t realize what a great deal you’ve got or you wouldn’t be so disrespectful and disobedient.”

Shelly and Michael would tell their parents they loved them. They would put on a good show when they wanted something from their parents, but Tom and Janeen knew they had lost their children’s hearts, the loves of their life.

Tom continued to pull out every stop in order to try and win his children back, but at every turn he ran into a roadblock. Through all of the scenes and trouble of the past few years Tom had remained strong. Tom had never cried late at night. He would try and comfort Janeen, but Tom would say, “We can’t give up Janeen. We’ve got to keep trying, keep praying, keep working to win them back.”

Finally, one night after having had Michael come home bloody from a fight and drunk, Tom broke. He went out on the back porch and cried. He cried and cried. He could not stop crying. Janeen came outside and wrapped her arms around her husband after she had cleaned up Michael’s wounds and put him in bed. Janeen said, “Talk to me Tom. What’s going through your mind?” Tom said through his tears, “You remember when the kids were little how they loved to be around us. How they would sit in our laps for hours and want us to read to them. Do you remember how sweet those times were? Our days have soured. They’ve climbed out of our laps Janeen. They don’t want to have us read to them any more. I’ve always known that they would have to grow up, but I never knew that we would have to grow apart. I’ve always believed that eventually I would get them back, but tonight, for the first time, I am afraid for Michael and Shelly. My heart aches for them.”

So goes the story of the mourning mom and the disappointed daddy. A story being told by countless millions of parents each day across our land. For many young people today growing up means rebelling against everything their parents stand for in life. Tom and Janeen have our sympathy because we know many parents who have gone through a similar set of circumstances with their children. Some of us have even walked in Tom and Janeen’s shoes with our own children.

Tom and Janeen are not the central characters in the story. There are many, many more of us who can easily identify with their two kids than with them if we will be honest with ourselves. A rebel is born every second of every day. You may be thinking to yourself, “You’ve got the wrong person. James Dean or Dennis Rodman I am not.” Oh, you may not dress the part or put forth a persona of rebellion, but deep in your heart and mine is a heart of rebellion.

This morning I want us to spend a few moments studying another father’s story. You’ve heard Tom’s broken heart, but there is another daddy whose heart remains broken to this day, who is pleading with His children to come home.

Israel’s Father spoke to her in the very first chapter of Isaiah. Turn there if you will and listen to a Father’s heart.

The visions concerning Judah and Jerusalem came to Isaiah son of Amoz during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah — all kings of Judah. {2} Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! This is what the LORD says: “The children I raised and cared for have turned against me. {3} Even the animals — the donkey and the ox – know their owner and appreciate his care, but not my people Israel. No matter what I do for them, they will not understand.” {4} Oh, what a sinful nation they are! They are loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil and corrupt children who have turned away from the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel, cutting themselves off from his help. {5} Why do you continue to invite punishment? Must you rebel forever? Your head is injured, and your heart is sick. {6} You are sick from head to foot-covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds – without any ointments or bandages. {7} Your country lies in ruins, and your cities are burned. As you watch, foreigners plunder your fields and destroy everything they see. {8} Jerusalem stands abandoned like a watchman’s shelter in a vineyard or field after the harvest is over. It is as helpless as a city under siege. {9} If the LORD Almighty had not spared a few of us, we would have been wiped out as completely as Sodom and Gomorrah. {10} Listen to the LORD, you leaders of Israel! Listen to the law of our God, people of Israel! You act just like the rulers and people of Sodom and Gomorrah. {11} “I am sick of your sacrifices,” says the LORD. “Don’t bring me any more burnt offerings! I don’t want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don’t want to see the blood from your offerings of bulls and rams and goats. {12} Why do you keep parading through my courts with your worthless sacrifices? {13} The incense you bring me is a stench in my nostrils! Your celebrations of the New Moon and the Sabbath day, and your special days for fasting – even your most pious meetings – are all sinful and false. I want nothing more to do with them. {14} I hate all your festivals and sacrifices. I cannot stand the sight of them! {15} From now on, when you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look. Even though you offer many prayers, I will not listen. For your hands are covered with the blood of your innocent victims. {16} Wash yourselves and be clean! Let me no longer see your evil deeds. Give up your wicked ways. {17} Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows. {18} “Come now, let us argue this out,” says the LORD. “No mater how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool. {19} If you will only obey me and let me help you, then you will have plenty to eat. {20} But if you keep turning away and refusing to listen, you will be destroyed by your enemies. I, the LORD, have spoken. (Isa 1:1-20 TNLT)

Can you hear the brokenness flowing from the heart of the Father? I sense a deep yearning coming from the Father. A yearning for the children who are being beaten up by the school yard bully to step out of harm’s way and fall into the Father’s healing arms.

The children who heard this appeal stood stiff, defiant in their resolve to walk in their own way, to make their own road, regardless of how bloody and brutal their way became.

This morning I have come to make an announcement: “Please listen Britton Christian Church! Listen heavens and earth! We are Israel! We are the children who have walked away from the protective presence of our Father and gone into the woods of waywardness! We are the ones whose heads are injured and whose hearts are sick! When will we return? When will we forsake our way, a way that ends in destruction and despair, so that we may return to our Father’s house where hope, healing, and fullness dwell?”

Today, you and I have an opportunity to return to our Father’s arms. He is waiting, patiently pleading for you and me to reach the end of our rope so that we might rest in His salvation and healing.

I began teaching the book of Isaiah to my Sunday school class several weeks ago. Since our lesson on chapter one I have not been able to get this section of Scripture out of my mind. God’s plea to the children of Israel is the Father’s plea to you and me, to our community, and nation. I want to walk through this section of God’s Word with you this morning with the hope that as we walk and listen the Lord will turn someone’s heart back home this morning. Take a look at verses 1-4.

The visions concerning Judah and Jerusalem came to Isaiah son of Amoz during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah — all kings of Judah. {2} Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! This is what the LORD says: “The children I raised and cared for have turned against me. {3} Even the animals — the donkey and the ox – know their owner and appreciate his care, but not my people Israel. No matter what I do for them, they will not understand.” {4} Oh, what a sinful nation they are! They are loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil and corrupt children who have turned away from the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel, cutting themselves off from his help.

I could spend weeks walking you through each of the rich Hebrew words that add so much definition and meaning to this powerful section of Scripture. Let me share some of what I have learned. God says, “The children I have raised and cared for have turned against me.” The Hebrew word for “raised” means to “lift up, to make great.” God exalted His chosen people. He told Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation,” and God held true to His promise.

In response to God’s great love and exaltation of a lowly people – they turned against Him. The literal meaning of the phrase, “turned against me,” is “to break loose,” or “break away.” God’s hand of blessing upon the heads of His people was slapped away. God’s children ripped themselves away from the loving arms of the Father embracing them in His goodness. Franz Delitzsch, the great Bible commentator, says, “The idea is that of dissolving connection with a person with violence and self-will.”

There is a separation that begins in the heart of a child long before he or she ever screams at the top of their lungs, “Would you just leave me alone!” Before actions testify of a child’s scorn for their parents the heart is already working its way loose from the bonds of love. Actions are preceded by a diminishing value of the parent’s advice, counsel, and attention.

What is true for a child is also true for you and me. I have known countless people who discovered God’s deep love for them, but over the course of time I watched them slowly inch their way away from the Father’s heart. There are countless reasons why this happens. Sometimes it is a negative experience, a painful experience that causes them to wonder if God really loves them. At other times it is the influence of a friend who despises the ways of God that woos them away from the Father’s love. Such was the case with a promising young follower of Jesus who lived long ago.

At age 17 the young man wrote these deep, sensitive thoughts: “Our heart, reason, history, and the work of Christ convince us that without Him we cannot achieve our goal, that without Him we are doomed by God, and only Christ can save us.”

The young man’s words reveal a depth that we rarely see in even the most mature believers. He had been baptized into the Lutheran church in 1824, at age six, and was confirmed at 16. In order to graduate from high school he was required to write an essay on a religious subject. He chose to explore “The union of believers with Christ, according to St. John’s Gospel (John 15:1-14), an exposition on its basic essence, its absolute necessity and its consequences.”

“The fruit of our union with Christ,” he continued, “is our willingness to sacrifice ourselves for our fellow man.” And the “joy which the Epicureans in their superficial philosophy sought in vain… is a joy known only to the innocent heart united with Christ, and through Christ to God.”

So wrote Karl Heinrich Marx, but by 1844, nine years later, he had abandoned any Christian devotion he may have once felt. In fact, his militant atheism and philosophical ideas of man’s struggle for a classless utopia free from the numbing effects of religion, established him as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. (Moody Monthly, June 1988.)

Karl Marx was a young man who demonstrated a depth of the love of God that few will ever know. Yet, he is the same man who tore himself away from the affection of the Father so that he could write his life’s credo, “Religion is the opiate of the people.”

Many would say, “Independence is a necessary part of defining who we are as human beings.” Finding that place where out soul is at rest and our mind at peace is vitally necessary, but our place of rest and peace is nestled deep in the Father’s arms. All other supposed places of rest will eventually become a place of imprisonment.

My children’s place is under my protective care. Connie and I are on constant guard to ensure their safety and security. We watch them like hawks. We make sure that hot pans on the stove are out of reach of Annie’s little hands. We have locks on our cabinets that contain harmful cleaners that might kill them. Our children do not tak medicine on their own for fear that they might overmedicate themselves. We guard their eyes from movies they should not watch. We do not let them venture out too far for fear that some stranger who does not have their best interest at heart might bring harm to them.

If our kids held a meeting one night after Connie and I went to bed and decided to pull off a coup they would be risking their lives. Annie would eventually put Pine Sol or Liquid Cheer in her bottle. Dan and Nate would let any stranger in the house who promised them a new video game, Tommy jeans, or a new pair of Nike shoes. They wouldn’t weigh the possible dangers before they acted.

That is God’s message to us this morning. We have pulled off a coup, but at the risk of our lives. We are allowing all sorts of destructive visitors to come into our hearts and homes and set up shop. God told the children of Israel with tears in His eyes,

{5} Why do you continue to invite punishment? Must you rebel forever? Your head is injured, and your heart is sick. {6} You are sick from head to foot-covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds – without any ointments or bandages. {7} Your country lies in ruins, and your cities are burned. As you watch, foreigners plunder your fields and destroy everything they see. {8} Jerusalem stands abandoned like a watchman’s shelter in a vineyard or field after the harvest is over. It is as helpless as a city under siege.

We can rebel against God, but at what cost? At the cost of our lives, our joy, our peace of mind? We continue to walk further and further away from the Father while we are continually pounded by those who desire to destroy us. Our heads are bloody from being beaten. Our hearts are sick with sin. The decisions we make to forge our own path pummel us with welts of sorrow, shame, sin, sickness, and scandal. Our hearts are sullied and stained and yet we apply the ointments of drugs, alcohol, loose living, parties, and get aways to try and numb our pain. The pain will not go away!

We don’t consider the cost while we are pulling away. It is only in the aftermath of destruction that we begin to weigh the high cost of walking away from the Father who desires to bless us and protect us from those who seek to destroy us.

George Bernard Shaw was a brilliant man, yet he rejected the love of God and the counsel of His Word. He placed his trust in his own system of belief, which was based on human reason. Yet he could not find lasting inner peace, and slowly lost confidence in what he believed.

Shortly before George Bernard Shaw died in 1950, he wrote, “The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, have led directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions. And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.”

We desire to refuse to believe in God today, but we still have a need to believe in something. Whether it is the atheism of George Bernard Shaw, the Communism of Karl Marx, or the humanism of Ted Turner – we have a need to believe in something. Steve Turner, the English journalist, in his satirical poem on the modern mind, beautifully, but tragically illustrates where our belief has led.

We believe in Marx, Freud, and Darwin.
We believe everything is OK.
as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything’s getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in horoscopes, UFO’s and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammed and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher although we think His morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same – at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then it’s compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.

We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,
and the flowering of individual thought.

He then adds this postscript called Chance:

If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky.
and when you hear State of Emergency! Snipers Kills ten! Troops on Rampage!
Mob goes Looting! Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man worshipping his maker (himself).”

Few of us here this morning hold to the same belief system as George Bernand Shaw, Ted Turner, Karl Marx, or Madelyn Murray O’Hare. After all, we are in church this morning right!? Right. The letter of brokenness that Isaiah spoke to Israel was directed towards those who were in church. Listen to verses 10-15.

{10} Listen to the LORD, you leaders of Israel! Listen to the law of our God, people of Israel! You act just like the rulers and people of Sodom and Gomorrah. {11} “I am sick of your sacrifices,” says the LORD. “Don’t bring me any more burnt offerings! I don’t want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don’t want to see the blood from your offerings of bulls and rams and goats. {12} Why do you keep parading through my courts with your worthless sacrifices? {13} The incense you bring me is a stench in my nostrils! Your celebrations of the New Moon and the Sabbath day, and your special days for fasting – even your most pious meetings – are all sinful and false. I want nothing more to do with them. {14} I hate all your festivals and sacrifices. I cannot stand the sight of them! {15} From now on, when you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look. Even though you offer many prayers, I will not listen. For your hands are covered with the blood of your innocent victims.

There is a change in tone coming from the Father’s heart once we get to verse 10. Maybe you can understand the change in tone if you’ve ever been “worked” by one of your children. I don’t know what you call it, but whenever my children are wanting to lavish me or their mother with their love, drape “Father of the Year” banners across my chest, and spend “quality time” with me – I know that I am being worked. Most of the time there is something going on behind the scenes. A desire to get something from their dad can bring such warm and sensitive behavior from a child.

This is no criticism of my kids, they are great kids – they are their father’s sons and daughter. They have learned well from me while I haven’t even been trying to teach them the art of “working” someone.

I am a master “worker.” I can’t tell you the number of times I have told God how awesome He is, promised Him that I am going to pray everyday, read the Bible, and be nice to everyone. Later to come back and say, “Lord, by the way I sure need your help. Lord, if you will just get me out of this one then I’ve going to live for You like I’ve never lived for you before.”

God says, “Mike, I hate your pious little ploys to get something out of Me. I despise your religious rituals that you think will fool Me! Mike, I see your heart and it is dark and cold and diseased and hard! You say you love Me, but you have left a wake of victims in your path! If you truly love Me, then love your wife, your kids, your neighbors, your friends, your enemies, your brothers and sisters, the alien on the street, the widows, the orphans, and those who are oppressed and beaten down.”

God is tired of our religious gymnastics to try and get Him to notice us. He is wanting more from us than empty words and devilish deeds – He desires our heart, our will, our desires. God says in verses 16-17,

{16} Wash yourselves and be clean! Let me no longer see your evil deeds. Give up your wicked ways. {17} Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.

God wants us to clean up our act. Our words need to match our walk. A genuine child of God will reflect his or her Father’s nature. Without our ever saying a word God can determine our love for Him by the way we live. He loves the oppressed. He is broken by the great loss suffered by orphans. He desires to be a husband to widows who are alone and afraid. If we love Him we will also love them.

Karl Rahner once said, “The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim God with their mouths and deny him with their life-styles is what an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable.”

We as Christians play all kinds of games to legitimize our lackadaisical lifestyles, but the strange truth is – the unbelievers around us know how we should be living. When we fall short of reflecting the Father’s heart they can spot us a mile away.

I would dare say that there is not one person here this morning who is not aware that there is a discrepancy between the way they believe and the way they live. Over the course of time the guilt from having failed God over and over becomes a heaviness that inescapable. God’s harsh words about those who play Him for a fool have been ringing heavy in my ears for weeks now. But what do we, what can we do? Great question! God is inviting us to do something about our condition this morning.

{18} “Come now, let us argue this out,” says the LORD. “No mater how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool. {19} If you will only obey me and let me help you, then you will have plenty to eat. {20} But if you keep turning away and refusing to listen, you will be destroyed by your enemies. I, the LORD, have spoken.

The stain of our sin and the depth of our guilt is deep, but God says, “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it.” There is only one way for the stain of our sin to be removed and that is for us to return to the Father so that He can apply the ointment of His sin to our wounds – then we will be saved, healed, and made whole. Won’t you come to the Father today?

The Brokenhearted Father
Isaiah 1:1-20