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Happy Fathers' Day

Happy Fathers’ Day

Happy Fathers’ Day! For all who are fathers or grandfathers or father figures, you are wished a good day as you live up to the very important task of leading children in their growth.

Fathers are crucial in the growth of children - their physical growth, their emotional growth, their educational growth, and, for fathers who are Christians, your children’s spiritual growth.

With that last piece in mind, today’s message will feature five Bible-based commandments for raising children. I will remind us there are ten commandments on the list. The first five were presented last month on Mothers’ Day. They were teach your children, using God’s word, tell your children what is right and wrong, see your children as gifts from God, guide your children in godly ways, and discipline your children.

 For today, the next five commandments for parents, which of course includes fathers. Commandments that, when they are followed, will help children be spiritually sound. There are of course no guarantees when raising children, but devoted, dedicated, hardworking fathers - and mothers - can weigh the balance in favor of decency and moral character in their children.

To help parents in their quest to be good at what they do, there are ten commandments. Again, the first half were highlighted on Mothers’ Day. They were all based on Old Testament passages. Today, the second half, all from the New Testament.

Commandment #6 - Love your children unconditionally.

That commandment is based on Luke 15:11-32, which tells the parable of the prodigal son.

In the parable, a father had two sons. The younger of the sons had a rebellious spirit that caused him to want to leave home. To make it possible to do that, he went to his father and asked.

I think it was more of a demand that his father give him his portion of the inheritance right then and there. The wording is, “Give me.” There is no indication there was a “please” that was spoken. Again, this was a demand, and it was a cruel demand. The younger son told the father he did not want to wait until his father died. He wanted his inheritance right then.

According to Jewish custom, the older son’s inheritance would have been two-thirds of the estate. The younger son would be due one-third. That is what he demanded. That is what he received from his father. He received it as soon as he demanded it.

With the money in hand, the younger son left. As might be expected with a sudden amount of cash just given to him, that son wasted his inheritance on loose living. It was not long before all the money he had received from his father was gone. Gone, too, were the friends he had made when he had money. That happened as a great famine started.

With no money and no friends, and with the prices of food going up because of the famine, the younger son began to be in want. The only thing he could find to do to avoid starvation was to get a job feeding pigs. Even with that, he made so little money he was just barely surviving.

One day, he came to his senses. He remembered how good things were at home. He remembered that even the servants of his father fared better than he was doing. The younger son decided to return home.

His return was to be humble. He did not intend to return as a family member, but only a servant. He knew that was all he was worthy of after his rebellious attitude and his subsequent wastefulness.

The younger son left the pig job and headed off for home. Eventually, he could see the house getting closer. Then he saw something else. There was someone running toward him. That someone was his father!

I wonder if the younger son was afraid his father would push him away or scold him. 

Neither of those things happened. Instead, his father embraced him and kissed him. Yuck. The younger son was dirty and smelly, yet his father embraced him and kissed him.

And it went beyond that. Before the younger son could complete his speech about intending to be only a servant, his father interrupted him, ordering his servants to bring the best robe and the family ring and shoes and put all that on his son, and then to kill a calf that had been held back for a special occasion and prepare it for a special banquet!

You know what all those actions represent? Unconditional love by the father for his younger son. The son certainly did not deserve that love, but it is what he received from his father.

Fathers - and mothers - are your children always deserving of your love? Probably not. I mean, even as great a kid as I was, I did some rebellious, weird things - no loose living, but some weird things - when I was I growing up. But the call is to keep loving them anyway. 

There is no indication in the parable if the younger son did better after he was accepted back into the family, but we can hope that was the result of unconditional love, not only in the parable, but in our lives.

There is, by the way, another part of the parable. The older son had stayed at home. The way it is worded, he might have received his inheritance when his brother received his, but the older son had stayed at home, still working for his father.

He came in from a day in the field just as the party for the younger son was beginning. The older son heard the music and the dancing. When he asked what was going on, he was told who the party was for, which caused the older son to become angry.

The father went to his older son. He invited that son to join the festivities, but the older son refused, upset because what was happening was something he, who had always been obedient, had never received at any time from his father.

The father did not argue. He did not scold. He did not grab his older son by the ear and drag him inside to the party. He simply explained that there should be joy because his other son, who had rebelled, was back. To me, simply explaining was another example of unconditional love, that time to the older son.

Fathers - and mothers - sometimes your children might have a wrong attitude or a wrong behavior. Still love them. That is a commandment for parents. Love your children unconditionally.

Commandment #7 - do not provoke your children to anger.

This one is based on Ephesians 6:4.

Verse 4 is part of a passage that covers several aspects of family life. For instance, husbands are to love their wives, wives are to respect their husbands, and children are to obey their parents.

That last one will make it easier for fathers to heed the next one on the list, which is, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.”

What does that mean? Here is what I found. 

Do not be so impatient with your children that they get frustrated. As I said on Mothers’ Day, I am not a parent, so I realize I do not know the day-to-day-type things that can cause impatience on the part of a parent, but impatience is to be avoided, at least to the extent of getting children frustrated enough to become angry.

Do not criticize or rebuke or scold all the time.

Make sure discipline matches the misbehavior, as in not being excessive. Verse 4 continues, “Bring children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” which means discipline is called for. Just do not go overboard.

I think I will tell this one on my dad. I need to mention this was a one-time thing. He was a good father. And he talked about it later, so I am not talking behind his back. 

One day my sister wore a new sweater to school. Sometime during the school day, she found a loose thread. For some reason, she started twirling it on one of her fingers. By the end of the day, there was a hole in the new sweater.

That night, when my dad, who had had a bad day at work, found out about the sweater problem, the punishment was a spanking. I still remember it. The spanking went on and on. The harder my sister cried, the harder the spanking got. My sister probably deserved to face consequences, but what happened was an example of excessive punishment. An example of my sister being provoked to anger.

Here are two alternatives to provoking children to anger that I ran across.

We know the phrase, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” That is true, but how about, in addition to the rod, there also be an apple - or some other positive thing - to give when the child does well.

And this. There is a story of a painter Benjamin West. One day, his mother went out for a while, leaving him, a young  boy at the time, in charge of his sister Sally. 

While the mother was gone, Benjamin discovered some bottles of colored ink. He used them to paint Sally’s portrait.

The problem was that some of the ink was spilled, which the mother saw when she returned home. It was quite a mess she saw. 

Her first reaction was not anger. Instead, she picked up the paper and said, “It’s Sally!” She then stooped over and kissed Benjamin. From that time on, he said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” Encouragement rather than rebuke helped him find his life’s work.

Again, I am not a parent. As I read about the ink spills, I am pretty sure that patience would not have been my first thought. But the call is - the challenge is - the commandment for parents is - do not provoke children to anger.

Commandment #8 - Earn the respect of your children by example. 

For this, I Timothy 3:4.

The letters of I and II Timothy were written by the apostle Paul to Timothy, a young man Paul had led to faith in Jesus, a young man Paul had placed as a pastor. In the letters, there are instructions about churches, including leadership of them.

In the first part of I Timothy 3, Paul lists some characteristics church leaders are to have. One is to above reproach, or blameless. That means a church leader is not to be involved in scandals.

Another is to be the husband of one wife.

Another is to be temperate, also translated “vigilant,” as in watchful for attacks from Satan.
Be sensible, or sober, serious about what is important about life, as in dignified and of good behavior.

Be hospitable, and an apt teacher, not only knowing, but being able to effectively communicate the word of God.

Be no drunkard, not violent, but gentle, and not quarrelsome. Be no lover of money, including not being covetous concerning what others have.

Then verse 4. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way. 

How can that be done? By being an example of submission, in that case to God, and respectful, in that case of others. For fathers, how about being respectful of their wives and their children?

I occasionally read Ask Amy, an advice column in the Lincoln paper. Recently there was a letter from a woman - I will leave out some of the particulars - who is in a relationship with a man who was unfaithful to her last summer. When found out, he apologized, but recently he was unfaithful again. “Part of me really loves him,” the woman wrote. “I do not want to throw five years away, but I do not know if I can ever trust him.”

The woman asked for Amy’s advice, which included some questions. “How does all of this nonsense impact your children? [The woman has three children from an earlier relationship.] What is it like for them when their mom is upset, angry, and hooked into a relationship with a lying, cheating man? Do you want to demonstrate to your kids that being with an unfaithful, destructive, and disrespectful partner is better than being alone and independent?” Amy added. “If you want for your kids to engage in healthy relationships, then you are going to have to show them the way.”

The last part of Amy’s advice was, “Kicking this guy [they were not married, so they did not have even that in their favor] to the curb might be a good first step.”

I have shared that letter and answer because it is a reminder that the way to earn respect and teach respect is to show by example what it means to be respectful. In fact, doing that is a commandment for parents.

Commandment #9 - Provide for the physical needs of your children.

For this, we stay in I Timothy, this time chapter 5, verse 8. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

To be true to the text, the setting is a passage that teaches grown children to take care of their parents, most especially their mothers, if they are in need, but it seems the same thought can also apply to parents providing for their children.

The point is that money can be spent on lots of things. While much of what money can be spent on is OK, the first priority for spending must be providing for the family. Food, housing, clothing. That sort of thing.

I realize there are some who need help with that. I see that when serving lunch at the People’s City Mission. I see it when I help with the back pack program at one of Lincoln’s elementary schools. There are those who need help.

But as you who are parents are able, it is a commandment to provide for your children’s physical needs, which will help in so many other ways, such as their ability to learn in school and their opportunity to develop hope.

Commandment #10 - Pass your faith along to your children.

For this, two Bible references, the first II Timothy 1:5, which provides a positive example of passing along faith.

Remember Timothy had been led to faith in Christ by Paul. However, Paul did not take full credit for the conversion. Paul wrote to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith [which was a very positive description]. It is a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice.”

It was that faith that dwelt in Timothy. Why? Because they had passed their faith along to him, making them good examples for parents and grandparents even now to pass along their faith to their children and grandchildren.

How can that be done? Let me repeat some of what was said on Mothers’ Day concerning Deuteronomy 6:4-9. 

First, parents are to know the LORD our God is one LORD. Because of God’s importance, we who are adults are to love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, and might. That includes learning the word of God.

We are then to teach God’s word to our children, doing so diligently. Teaching is to happen when at home and when away, before bed and when getting up in the morning. All of life is to be saturated with the word of God.

It takes time and effort to keep up with such teaching. It takes discipline to show by example that you know and obey and apply the word of God. But teaching and showing your faith to your children is important, making it more likely they, too, will grow into being Christians and then develop their faith more and more fully.

Fathers, father figures - and mothers - and everyone else who has influence on children, love your children unconditionally, do not provoke your children to anger, earn your children’s respect by example, provide for your children’s physical needs, and pass your faith along to your children. Those are commandments for parents.

*       *       *       *       *

For today’s closing song, the hymn Lord, We Bring to You Our Children, except, since this is Fathers’ Day, we are going to change it to Lord, We Bring to You Our Fathers.

Lord, we bring to You our fathers

On this festive, holy da.y

Grant to them Your benediction;

Grant to them Your help, we pray.

Now we ask in honest worship,

In glad and sacred hour,

Give themselves in true commitment

To Your service and Your power.

To the task of Christian nurture:

Teaching, training, leading still

In the way of Christlike living

Till life’s purpose we fulfill.

Bless our children! Bless our parents!

May they grow in Christ our Lord:

Joined in faith and loving service,

In His Spirit and His word.

Lord, thank You for what You are willing to share with fathers, mothers, and father and mother figures. You have available Your power, Your love, Your insight, Your ability to rejoice on the good days and to stand firm on the difficult days. May not only fathers, but all who have influence on younger people, be dedicated to love and teach, provide and pass along the Christian faith.

And may all our children respond positively to all those things. You will be pleased by that. Amen.

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