The ABC's of Fathering

Matthew 7:7-12

Top Ten Dad Sayings - Sometimes we fall into that kind of rut – we say the things our fathers said to us, we do the things our fathers did, and rather than be intentional about fathering, we fall back on what we learned from our dads – and the truth is – we can do better.

And so, I want to begin this morning by talking about being an intentional father. And let me begin with a story about a dad who learned a hard but valuable lesson:

His son’s 10th birthday was just around the corner and he wanted to give his son something he would really love. He knew his son loved soccer so he decided to get him a professional soccer ball. But a few days later, he and his son were watching a football game on TV and his son asked, “Dad, can I have a football for my birthday?” Now he was confused – which should he get for him? So he decided just to ask him: “Son, which would you rather have for your birthday, a football or a soccer ball?” The answer his son gave him knocked him back on his heels: “I’d really rather have a football, but if every time I ask you to play catch with me, you’re going to tell me you’re too busy, then just get me a soccer ball, cause I can always play with that by myself.” The next morning, I headed for the sporting goods store and bough a genuine, regulation, leather NFL football. As I carried it to the car, I silently prayed, “Lord, please help me to give time to my son just as I give him this ball.”

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 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!” (Matt 7:7-11) 

I wish I could say I’ve never known a father who wouldn’t give his very life to provide for the needs of his children – not just the barest essentials, but the best he could give. But the truth is I have known fathers, who not only wouldn’t give their children the best, they neglected them and treated them as if they were an imposition on their life.  I’ve known fathers who abused their children verbally, physically, mentally and spiritually.

There is so much more to being a father than creating a child. There is so much more than simply living in the same house as the children you’ve sired. There is so much more than bringing home a pay check to provide for those children while you go about living your own life – occasionally checking in, showing up for the birthday parties and graduations – but emotionally and spiritually disconnected from them.

Intentional fathers aren’t haphazard or accidental about what they do.  They don’t always put their kids off until it’s convenient.  They realize that being a father is a lifelong investment in a relationship with the children that God has given to them.  Intentional fathers realize that there are actions and attitudes that define them as fathers.

Intentional fathers create time for their children. 

There will always be something that you can imagine is more important than whatever you had planned with your child – some meeting, some trip, some golf game. And we can convince ourselves that there will always be another day, another opportunity.  And so we’ll excuse ourselves.

Kids figure out pretty fast where they fit in your list of priorities. You have to intentionally make time and take time to do things with your kids – and the older they get the harder it gets. 

Intentional fathers purposefully raise their children instead of just letting them grow up. 

I suspect most parents feel pretty helpless in the onslaught of culture that threatens to sweep their families downstream.  The things our kids learn, the language they use, the clothes they wear, the activities they want to participate in, the parts of their bodies they want pierced.  It is a constant battle of wills. 

And most parents just throw up their hands and say “that’s the way it is – why fight it?”  And so they let the world raise their kids.  They let TV determine their values.  They let their friends pick their clothes and set their curfew and tell them what’s cool. 

And I’m not saying that we lock our kids in a world-proof container and dress them in the morning and regulate every moment of their day.  I am saying that our voice needs to be a dominant voice in their lives. We can’t abdicate our responsibility for raising our children to the world. 

Intentional fathers develop a strategy and goals for what they want to accomplish with their children and let those goals guide their parenting.

And that means you pick your battles.  You decide what’s most important – what’s non-negotiable and hold that line. (And not everything’s worth fighting for.)

Prentice Meador did a great parenting series a few years ago in which he said our children need two things from us – roots and wings. We need to give our kids a solid foundation, helping them learn right from wrong, helping them to develop their own faith – they need to be deeply rooted in God. But we also need to give them wings – to help them learn to think for themselves, to teach them to make good decisions and then let them. Give them freedom to live their lives and turn them loose.

Our passage in Matt. 7 talked about the good gifts a father gives to his children.  I want to suggest three gifts that your children need from you.  You won’t find them on the shelf at Dillards, you can’t buy them on your Visa Platinum Card, you can’t order them off the Internet.  But they truly are the things your children need most from you. 

Affirmation“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.” (1 Thess 2:11)

Our children need affirmation.  I think of the words of God on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  Was Jesus worried about what God thought about him? No.  Did Jesus just need to have his ego stroked? No.  Was Jesus starved for approval? No. Nevertheless, God affirmed his son and lifted him up in the eyes of his companions.

How often do your children hear words of affirmation from you? – “I’m proud of you” – “You did a great job” – “You’re a terrific son” – “I’m glad you’re my daughter”

There are sons and daughters who spend a lifetime hungering for the approval of their fathers.  Some of you who are in your 40’s and 50’s still have an empty place in your heart for the words you never heard from your father. 

It’s a gift only you can give.  Your wife can’t substitute for you. Your kids’ coach or teacher or scout leader can’t replace your approval.  Your kids need your affirmation and approval.  Give it to them.

Blessing – In Genesis we find a significant moment in the relationship between the patriarch Jacob and his son Joseph and two grandsons: “Then he blessed Joseph and said, ‘May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm - may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth.’” (Gen 48:8)

The ancient world understood the power of a blessing. A blessing would be bestowed at special times – a birth or a wedding or a significant milestone, before travel or a dangerous undertaking, with the passing of leadership or the passing of one generation to the next. A blessing was a serious and significant occasion. It wasn’t done lightly and it had lasting implications.

We have lost that practice of bestowing blessings – much to our loss. 

Smalley and Trent have written a book called, The Gift of the Blessing, in which they encourage parents to recapture that practice of giving our children the gift of a blessing.  To picture a future and a hope – to bestow a legacy your children can build a life upon.  And not just with words, and not just at special milestones, but on a continual basis, in many forms.

Here’s how they describe it:  A family blessing begins with a meaningful touch. It continues with a spoken message of high value, a message that pictures a special future for the individual being blessed, and one that is based on an active commitment to see the blessing come to pass.

Your kids need your blessing – they need to feel, hear, see, experience it. They never get too old to need that blessing, so even if you’re on the far end of parenting, you still have the opportunity to give a blessing to your children, and to your grandchildren.

Christ in You“Fathers… bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4)

The most important gift you can give your children is to model for them a life lived under the lordship of Jesus Christ.  They need to see a man of God who has Christ living in him.  They need to see what all these words they hear on Sunday morning look like in real life from Monday through Saturday.

I’m not saying you need to be perfect or sinless – in fact, they need to see a man who has made mistakes and asks forgiveness and handles failure and survives storms and wrestles with questions – always coming back to the confident assurance of faith in the grace of God.

Our kids don’t need some bullet-proof, un-dentable, unapproachable man who stands above them shouting instructions.

They don’t need a successful man who has sacrificed everything for his career and can provide every imaginable material luxury.

They don’t need a father who has a scratch golf game or an immaculate yard or serves on 35 “very important” committees.

They don’t need a father who puts his wants and interestshis schedule and time offhis preferences and tastes above theirs.

They need a father –

in whom God is still working,

who willingly lays down his life for his family,

who may not know all the answers, but knows the one who has the answers.

There is no job at which I failed so often – no job at which I continue to feel so incompetent. There are so many things I wish I had done, or done better, or hadn’t done at all.  Even the scriptures remind us that we are on the bottom side of the bell curve.

Heb. 12:10 – “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best…”

Matt. 7:11“If you then who are evil…”

In fact, to tell you the truth, I rarely preach on parenting, because I feel so inadequate to talk about things that I myself haven’t done very well.  If our kids turned out well, it’s because Diana is such a great mom – and more than made up for my inadequacies as a father.

But despite the inadequacies, the often times incompetence of our efforts to be fathers – that is the title by which God Almighty chose to be known – “Father.”  Paul writes: “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6:18) Jesus prayed, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”   John writes: 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!  (1 John 3:1)

Let me tell you what that tells me: 

There is a model which God wants us to imitate.

There is a result toward which God wants us to work.

There are feelings which God knows we will experience.

There is a commitment which God wants us to give.

And though I may not do it very well – I showed up for work every day.  And while God himself must be shaking his head thinking, “isn’t he ever going to get it?” I’m going to keep trying and keep praying for my kids and keep doing the best I can.

Stu Weber, in his book Tender Warrior, asks the question, “What is the most powerful word in the English language? Is it honor or love or country? Maybe it’s sacrifice.” Then he suggests, “How about the word dad? Just walk through what you know about life. When it comes to power in a youngster’s world, I’ll put my money on the word dad. As words go, hope, vision, and sacrifice don’t mean a whole lot to little ones, but the power of the word dad reaches far beyond a youngster’s childhood. In fact, it spans generations. There are two ways to recognize power. One is to see it at work. The other is to measure what happens when it is gone. Either way, the word dad is pretty potent. Present or absent, positive or negative, the power of the father is incredible.”