Bill McFarland

June 15, 2003

Anyone with just a surface reading of scripture from one cover to the other would, I think, come away with the feeling that the role of a father is quite important. God is often spoken of as our Father. There are directions and charges given to fathers all through scripture. Fathers and their children are frequently spoken of in the Bible and so, just in reading, without even taking the time to study any particular passage, you would come away with the impression that a father plays an important role in human life.

On the other hand it is quite interesting to notice that in scripture there are not many extended passages that talk a great deal about how fathers are to fill that role or how they are to go about doing that work. I noted on the front of today's local paper, the idea that "some fellows are doing it right even though there is no instruction manual that tells us how to do it." There is the feeling that a lot of guys have, "I have a great big job," and maybe not having had a father who met his responsibility toward me, and maybe amid the confusion of this present society in which we live which has so many conflicting ideas about fatherhood, or maybe just because I feel a challenge too big for me. What if I mess up? We look for answers about how dads are to go about doing their work.

One thing that impresses me in reading scripture is that there are a great many passages where just the picture of a father being something or of a dad doing something is there. The Bible teaches us a lot about the role of fatherhood in that way, not merely in charges or instructions but just showing us what a father would be found doing in the course of ordinary daily life. And when you put those pictures together, the idea that you end up with or the portrait that you come away with is quite instructive and quite impressive.

I want to ask you this morning to look at the Bible's picture of a dad filling his role in the lives of his children and in his family. One of the first things that stands out to me is that if he is the dad the Bible calls for, his children will be the joy of his life. He will realize even before they are born that it is not just about him. He is not just having children because he is looking for something to fill that empty spot in his own life. His eagerness is not just to have something to amuse him or to occupy or to give his life some meaning or fulfillment. His interest and his joy will be in those kids. He will take a deep interest in them early on. The Proverbs said "The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice. He who bears a wise son will be glad in him." The children need to see in dad's eyes that spark of joy in them. They need to know very early on that he has an interest in them that creates in their hearts and their lives a sense of self-worth. They are important if for no other reason than because their daddy thinks they are.

One of the joys of my reading has been an article that I found years ago now of children's descriptions of their fathers. One little girl named Margaret wrote, "What a father iss." She wrote, "He does not love you because you are pretty or tall or small. He loves you because you are you. God bless my father." The Psalms says, "Behold children are a heritage from the Lord; the fruit of the womb a reward." A father's job is to convince his children that they are worth something and that they are valuable and that they are the joy of his own heart and life.

Secondly, the Bible shows a dad taking responsibility for the upbringing of his kids. A real father knows that any jerk can have offspring, but a father has children for whom he is responsible. My dad died early on but one of the lingering memories that I have of him is pulling weeds one day in the garden. (Yes, he actually made me do that.) And he talked to me that day about something that was important. It actually had to do with my spiritual life. He said to me, "I am responsible for you." That, if nothing else, attached to my mind that we were talking about something important. The Bible says, the apostle Paul writing, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." That is a job for both parents, but notice the charge given to fathers especially. You can provoke your children to anger in two ways. You can do it by always finding fault and putting pressure on them and their never being able to please you. Or you can do it by not even caring enough to give them the guidance and the attention and even the discipline that they need so badly in order to grow. A dad feels responsible for his kids.

Third, a father in the Bible feels for his children in all of their experiences. He has a certain ability to notice what those kids are going through, to understand what it is like for them, and to be touched with everything from the little card I saw Luis get earlier that said "Pappa" on it, to what his kids do to try to bring him joy, to what they do to try to take responsibility, to later on when they are undertaking projects or things that are important to them in school. He knows what it is like and he feels for them in their efforts. Of the God of heaven, Psalms 103 says, "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him." And look at this, "for he knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust." A dad knows what his children are made of. He remembers where they are in their lives and he deals with them accordingly, not demanding too much, not expecting too little of them. He deals with them based on who they are.

Fourth, a dad tries to grant any request that is good for his children. Bill Cosby said that the day you decide to have children, your name changes. And he said if you are a dad, if you are a man, your name changes from whatever it is, to "Dadcani." And a real father is someone who doesn't merely respond, "No." He doesn't say no without a good reason and that good reason has got to be that it is not good for his kids. I am not sure if all of these Chinese proverbs are really proverbs, but I jotted down one I read some years ago that said, "Give a pig and a boy all they want and you will have a good pig and a bad boy." A dad then has to learn how to give good gifts to his children. In that way Jesus said, "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent. Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?" The answer is, of course, no father would intentionally frustrate or mistreat his children in such a way as that. All right, then, isn't God a better father than we are? A father tries to grant good gifts to his children so that he may be a reflection in their eyes of the Father of lights who is the source of every good gift which we enjoy. James 1:17.

Next, a father in scripture is found continually counseling his children, teaching them, guiding them, instructing them, forming their character in their lives. The wise man in Proverbs 4 said, "When I was a son with my father, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, 'Let your heart hold fast my words. Keep my commandments and live.'" That is Proverbs 4:3-4. Notice here to his mother he is tender and only beloved but to his dad it is "son listen to me. Pay attention to what I am saying and live." There is the check and balance system in a mother and dad as they are teaching their children lovingly but authoritatively how to live life.

Back to my stories about what a father is. One little boy said, "You go to a father when you are in a spot. He gives you some advice and sometimes it can get you into trouble. A father is a help at everything, but there is one thing you have to be careful of - he is not always right." Another little girl said, "Most fathers would like to help out, but they can't." A little boy wrote, "A father is much more than a parent. He is one who will help you in many ways. In most cases, he will succeed." That is a father trying to teach and trying to instruct and trying to guide his children.

Paul said in I Thess. 2:11-12, "For you know how like a father with his children," (look at these words) "we exhorted each one of you." That is a word which means put your arm around the shoulder and take them and show them how to do something. "We encouraged you," That is a word that finds good to encourage and gives positive reenforcement. "And charged you." That is a word that has the bark on it. It means there is some authority to it. You must do this. "We charge you to walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." Fathers teaching their children about character and how to live and how to serve God - that role is indispensable.

Bro. John Gibson told us a cute story that shows how fathers do this. He said that his dad, who came along at hard times, was continually stressing to him as he grew up that we ought to be thankful for every blessing that we receive. He said his dad told him a story to make this point. His dad said "that when he was younger, he was working in the cotton fields along side an aged black man. The midday sun was just beating down on them with almost unbearable heat. Suddenly a little cloud appeared overhead and covered that sun for just a few moments and it provided a temporary relief to the workers in the cotton field. The next thing he knew," he said, "that old man stood erect beside him and took off his hat and held it over his heart, and then gazing into heaven, he muttered a heartfelt response, "thank you, Mr. Jesus.'" John says that his dad told him that story and then always said that we ought to live with an attitude of thanksgiving. Children learn from their fathers in ways like that.

Next, a father in scripture will discipline because he loves so much. Dads, our kids need us to care enough to guide them in the right way, to train them, even it means laying down some limits. The Bible says, "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof. For the Lord reproves him whom he loves as a father the son in whom he delights." The father does not discipline as if he hates the child or as if the child is a disappointment to him. He disciplines as if he delights in that child. In the Proverbs, to withhold discipline, to withhold that kind of training, is regarded as abusing the child.

Bill Cosby told of the first time when he had to finally spank his son. He said that the boy had taken up lying, that he lied to them about going to school and he lied to his folks about turning in his homework. And he did it, worse of all, thinking he could get away with anything. They called him in and laid down the law. They said "this is going to be the law in our house. You don't lie. And if you do, you bear the consequences." Cosby said he was off in Las Vegas entertaining and the call came from his wife back home. "Our son," she said, "has done it again." Cosby said, "Put him on the phone." The boy got on the phone, "Hello, dad." He said, "Son, when I get home, I'm going to kick your behind." There was silence. "I love you son, but when I get home, that is what is going to happen." He got home and the boy didn't show up in the house for a day and a half in the same room with his dad. His dad said to him, "You remember our conversation?" "Yes." "All right. Let's go out to the barn." Now dads, watch this. He is not doing anything angry. He is not abusing in any way. He took his little paddle, went out to the barn. The boy tries to talk him out of it all the way down. Then he said to him, "You know why we are doing this?" "Yes." "Bend over." He bent over and Cosby said he took one swat and tears began to come. The boy stood up and Cosby said to him, "You realize why I am doing this?" "Yes." "Are you willing to never lie to me again?" He said "Yes." "All right, you can go." The boy turned around to walk off and Cosby said, "I swatted him again." He turned around and said, "Dad, you said you wouldn't do that." He said, "I lied." He said that was the last time that boy told him a lie. Mr. Cosby said the only alternative to discipling his boy would have been to let him think he could get away with anything, and he loved him too much to let that happen. In scripture, to discipline a child wisely and lovingly because you delight in him is a favor to him. And by the way, in saying this, I am talking to dads, don't leave it to mamma. In Proverbs 29, verse 17, the Bible says, "Discipline your son and he will give you rest. He will give you delight to your heart."

Next, I want you to notice in the Bible a father does things his children can do with him. Paul said, "But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father." Look at that. "As a son with a father, he served with me in the gospel." I read a little story working on this. A dad had told his little boy, "I'm going to take you fishing tomorrow." They were getting ready for bed that night and the little boy came and hugged his dad's neck and said, "Daddy, thank you for tomorrow." He was going to do something with him that next day. The training that a dad gives to his children is crucial in just being with them and doing things with them. You can't make up for that with a trip to Disneyland. You have to be there to do stuff with them. Chores, house cleaning, whatever it is, to be with them so they can see what it means to be a man. David Blankenhorn says boys need to see a man. They need to see their dad. They need to do it so that they can see how masculinity is lived out in everyday life and how a man handles himself and his emotions and especially his anger. And that girls need to have a dad who shows them what is the proper way for a man to show affection to a young lady and to respect her.

Then next, a father communicates affirmation and approval to his children. In the case of Jesus, remember that the voice came from heaven, "you are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased." It is an awkward thing it seems like for a lot of us who are dads who never, ever heard our dad say, "I love you" to turn to our kids and to hug them when they are grown and to say "I love you." But some how or other we can't stop communicating. "You are mine. I am pleased with you. And I love you with everything in me." I think it means more when we are grown.

And then next, a father is there for his children. It is no accident that the most beloved of all of Jesus parables is the story of the two boys in Luke 15. The first one messes up in the far country, the other one messes up right at home. When the father sees the younger boy coming back home to his father's house, the father who sees him a long way off and is moved with compassion, runs out there to meet him and embraces him and kisses him. When the older boy stays outside pouting, the father goes out to him and says to him, "Son, you are always with me and all that is mine is yours." In both cases, the father goes out to be with his boys. There has to be somewhere in life which is "my dad's house" to us. That has to be a place where a father is there for his kids.

And then ten, in the Bible his children are proud of him. Proverbs 17 and verse 6, if you want to jot down the passage there, "the glory of children is their father." Now you might think you would be hurting if that was all you had to be proud of. But a man like we have described in this passage ought to be regarded as one that we are proud of. Gary Smalley and John Trent wrote a little book entitled, "The Family Matters Handbook." In their book, one of the authors gives the text that was on a Father's Day card that he got from his oldest son. It moved him so much. It is entitled, "This Is For You." "This is for you dad, for the father I love, for the one who has cared all these years, but has never heard enough about how much I care. So this is for you, for the one who has helped me through all my childhood fears and failures and turned all that he could into successes and dreams, for the man who is a wonderful example of what more men should be, for the person whose devotion to his family is marked by gentle strength and guidance and whose love of life, sense of direction, and down to earth wisdom make more sense to me now than nearly any other thing I learned. If you never knew how much I respected you, dad, I want you to know it now, and if you never knew how much I admire you, let me just say that I think you are the best father that any child ever had." You choose your way to say it, but if your daddy is alive, if you can see anything in him of what we have just described here today, you let him know that you feel blessed by him.

Looking at this picture makes any man who is a dad feel like he is falling way short of it. But it also shows us what our God wants to be to us. It is no accident that he has portrayed himself and revealed himself as the Heavenly Father. He wants us to know that in Christ he is offering to us the gift of this kind of relationship to him so that we can call on him and expect him to treat us in the way these passages describe. If I believe in Jesus Christ that he is the new and living way, I can turn from my attraction to the far land and I can come home to my father's house, repenting of my sins. I can confess that I believe that Jesus is the Christ. I can be baptized into his name and my father will raise me up a new child and add me to his family and treat me like a father treats his child. Have you made that beginning today? And if you did, are you still living at home or have you wandered off into the far country of selfishness? Do you need to come confessing and asking the Lord's blessings on you afresh? If you need to, won't you come today while we stand and sing?