Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day

What follows is my preparation work for Father's Day preaching 2011.


...and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.  (Matthew 28:20)

Those words of Jesus are a promise we can depend on.  There is no power, no authority, no "system" of government, no church, no economy, no family heritage, no sin, no demon, nothing in all the universe that can stand against our God.  And in this promise from Jesus we learn that God is WITH us, on our side.  Let's say those words together--the words Jesus said--"Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Today I'm going to speak specifically to men.  I feel blessed to do this because the assigned scriptures for the day are connected with manhood--not to the exclusion of women--but in the Bible passages from Genesis and from Matthew 28 it's not hard to find specific connections with men's lives.  Also, in regard to women and children, there is nothing better for them than when men understand the Bible's commands and promises.  How wonderful when men love and serve like Jesus!

I was reading the Bible verses from Matthew 28(:16-20) and thinking about men and a question occurred to me that I've never thought about before.  Do you suppose any of those first twelve disciples of Jesus were fathers?  We do know, from other places in the Bible like First Corinthians 9:5, that most of them were married...

Turn over to that passage for a moment... we don't think about this very often...  Here's what it says:  (Paul is writing as a man who was single--unmarried with no biological children.)
"This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?  Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?"  [Cephas here is another name for Peter.]
In this passage Paul is speaking of his rights as a disciple of Jesus.  We like rights, don't we!  We're glad that we aren't required to be single but that God lets us get married!  And then, through the God-given gifts of sex and biology, children come into the world!  We get to be parents!  What a wonderful thing!  And being a dad (or a mom...) is, therefore, a really important part of the Christian life when we have kids.

But somehow we don't think about those first disciples* as having wives and children.  Chances are they did--there was no birth control in those days--and I'd be willing to bet that when Jesus spoke those words from Matthew 28 those disciples thought of their children!  How could "making disciples, baptizing and teaching" be understood in a way that these dads' children would be left out?

The faith that these disciples had when they themselves were children, the Jewish religion... their faith put a priority on family life that can hardly be exaggerated.  In the Old Testament the promises of God were passed down through the family almost exclusively--there is almost nothing clearer than this in that part of the Bible.

Those disciples who heard Jesus command to go and make disciples--they must have understood their God-given responsibility as husbands and fathers.  Certainly there were times when they needed to leave their wives and children for a time, but many times their wives came with them on their missionary journeys (First Corinthians 9:5).  I presume that often the children came along too.**

In Matthew 19(:27ff) and in other places there are very important words about leaving one's family and property, but there are many, many scriptures that speak to men about our responsibilities to our wives and families--scriptures that speak of how we are to be faithful, to not divorce our wives for any old reason, to love our wives as Christ loves us--sacrificially and completely.

The New Testament raises the Old Testaments teaching about family to an even higher level.  The first disciples would have already known a lot about their responsibilities as dads.  I mentioned how the Old Testament promises were passed down through families... there are wonderful passages in the Bible like this one from Deuteronomy 6 from Moses:
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life...

...Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)

So Father's Day isn't far from the commands of God at all.  Fathers have biological, spiritual and financial responsibilities toward their wives and children.  Fathers are not to just run off to follow Jesus without taking their families into consideration.  Fathers are called by God to follow Jesus with their families--leading them with humble and sacrificial service in thankfulness to God.

A big responsibility?  You bet!  Jesus puts such emphasis on how we treat our kids.

Look at Matthew 18:
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked,

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said:

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.5 And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea...”
And then Ephesians 6:4 --
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children;
instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
To "exasperate" your children means to make them angry with you... it's a big responsibility, isn't it, to love your children and care for them, and discipline them in such a way that they don't become angry and bitter.

That's your job, dad, whether it comes naturally nor not.

It means that you don't have much time for yourself.  You're always making choices, thinking about your kids and learning about how best to be their dad.  You pray a lot and seek advice.  You look for events like the men's Fire Life gathering this week in Annandale.  You know you can't do it all alone.

You're constantly balancing everything--work (or seeking work), prayer, many other responsibilities... and time for your wife and your kids.

You probably feel a lack of time and energy and money but you trust God to fill the gap.  You say no to your boss sometimes and set boundaries with your customers because you need to get home.  Almost all the time, when you have fun, you include the kids.  And you love your wife and sacrifice for her--forsaking all others.  You watch your step with other women.  You're careful about how you stir the sexual fires.  You recognize that you are not all that strong.  But, because you've heard God's call to love and care for your family, you do it--no matter what.

Then, on top of that, as you are dedicated to God's plan for being a dad in this world, your circle of prayer and concern and action expands. Remember what Jesus said to the group of dads he was speaking to at the end of Matthew's gospel?
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
O how we need Jesus!

A dad, just like every other Christian, can't just focus on his own home or his own kids!  Jesus EXPANDS the circle!  He says GO!  Go to OTHERS.  Go beyond your own family.

"Nations" in this verse doesn't mean just other countries.  A better way to say it would be "go to every kind of person, to every group of people..."  Go with the good news of God's love to other people who aren't like you, that aren't a part of your family.

Dad--part of this means caring about other people's kids.  It might even mean getting involved in what we'll be doing as a church with youth.

One more thing--everything here applies to grandfathers too.  We never retire from being men of God.

This means we are really going to need Jesus!  We're going to need him to lead and guide.  We're going to need his constant forgiveness and the outpouring of his Holy Spirit.  We're going to need to focus on the promises of God and depend on Him to give us our rest and peace and joy.  We're not going to be able stir it up on our own.  We're not going to   We'll just run out of gas.  We'll just run out of steam.  Without Jesus we'll stop, we'll retreat, we'll give up and focus on whatever gives us peace--our jobs, our sports, our hobbies.  Without Jesus we'll feel defeated and say, "What's the use?  I'll never measure up to God's plan anyway.  Why even try?"

Dads--the truth is this: You don't need to do any of this alone.  Come to Fire Life next week if you can.  Do the study on how God is calling you that many of us are doing this summer.  And let us pray for you.  In fact, let us pray for you now.

I'll plan to have the dads gather in a group and then have all the rest lay on hands to pray for them.  After that, we'll sing this song to the tune of Jeg er så glad:
Happy the home when God is there,
and love fills everyone,
when with united work and prayer
the Master's will is done.

Happy the home where God's strong love
is starting to appear,
where all the children hear his fame
and parents hold him dear.

Happy the home where prayer is heard,
and praise is every where,
where parents love the sacred Word,
and its true wisdom share.

Lord, let us in our homes agree
this blessed peace to gain,
unite our hearts in love to thee,
and love to all will reign.
* The Bible focuses on 12 men as disciples because those disciples were chosen to show connection with the Old Testament where men were always in charge.  Through his relationships with women Jesus began to correct those pre-conceived notions and the Holy Spirit continued that work through the rest of the New Testament.  The goal is that both men and women, young and old, slave and free -- the goal is that there would be no one higher than anyone else.

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