This morning I want to share with the men. As a father, I want to talk with fathers and to those who in time will become fathers.

I do not share these things as a man who believes that he has the answers. I don't have the answers. Believe it or not, I clearly remember the themes of sermons that I preached on the family when I was 21 and 22 years old. That was when I sincerely, genuinely believed that I had many of the answers. When you are sincere and ignorant it is easy to believe that you have the answers.

Now I know at least in part of my ignorance. Because I remain sincere, honesty demands that I confess that I am just beginning to understand the questions.

  1. One of the most popular images of God in the Bible is God the Father.
    1. God is so commonly coupled with the concept of a father that we naturally think of God as our spiritual Father.
      1. God was presented as a Father early in Bible history.
        1. Before Israel became a nation, Moses, speaking for God, told Pharaoh, "Israel is my Son, my firstborn (Exodus 4:22).
        2. After Israel became a nation but before Israel entered Canaan, God told them, "You are the children of the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 14:1).
        3. Isaiah the prophet told Israel to call upon God as "our Father" (Isaiah 64:8).
        4. Hosea the prophet told Israel that they were "sons of the living God" (Hosea 1:10).
      2. The presentation of God as our spiritual Father received enormous emphasis in Jesus' life and teachings.
        1. At Jesus' baptism a voice from heaven said of Jesus, "This is my beloved Son..." (Matthew 3:17).
        2. When Jesus was transfigured, a voice from a cloud said of Jesus, "This is my beloved Son..." (Matthew 17:5).
        3. Jesus frequently referred to God as "my Father" (Matthew 11:26; frequently in the gospel of John).
        4. Jesus also taught people to understand that God was their father.
          1. He told them to love their enemies in order that they might be "the sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:45).
          2. He taught his disciples to pray, "Our Father, who is in heaven..." (Matthew 6:9).
          3. As Jesus taught, he frequently referred to God as "your Father" (Matthew 6:4,8; 7:11; 10:20; etc.).
        5. From the book of Romans through the rest of the New Testament epistles, God is often referred to as "God our Father," "our God and Father," and God the Father."
      3. The Bible teaches us to look at our relationship with God as a parent and child relationship, a Father and son relationship.
    2. Why are we taught to look at God as our spiritual Father?
      1. In one way, that seems very strange.
        1. Since God is not a physical or a sexual being, why should we look at Him as a Father figure?
        2. It is a figure of comparison that helps us understand two important things.
          1. First, God wants to have a relationship with us.
          2. Second, the kind of relationship that God wants with us is the relationship that exists in a healthy, loving parent and child relationship.
      2. The youngest writings in the Bible are almost 2000 years old.
        1. When the books and letters of the Bible were written, the role of a father was a positive, good image.
          1. Certainly, fathers were not perfect in those ages.
          2. But the image of a good father was powerful and positive.
    3. When the books of the Bible were being written, what was the image of a father?
      1. A good father provided protection for the family.
        1. In those worlds, there were very few sources of protection.
        2. For many, the father provided the only security in an uncertain world.
      2. A good father with loving concern disciplined fairly, but he did not abuse.
        1. He prepared his child for life in the world through loving discipline.
        2. Discipline was always concerned about the best interests of his child.
      3. A good father was a critical source of supportiveness.
        1. He provided love and kindness.
        2. But he also provided forgiveness and mercy.

  2. I would like to do some practical thinking about a good father's role in his family.
    1. Very little said in the New Testament about a father as a parent.
      1. Ephesians 6:5 says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
      2. Colossians 3:21 says, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart."
    2. The father-child relationship is a complex relationship that becomes more complex in the years of the child's adolescence.
      1. Being effective a father is basically a "one shot opportunity."
      2. There is no tried and proven way to build the father-child relationship.
      3. Each child is different; each child is an individual from birth; and what is very effective with one child might be disastrous with another child.
      4. The degree of success that we fathers have in building a long lasting, effective, influential relationship with our children is strongly tied to being personally involved with our children at an early age.
        1. In my childhood, I was rarely around babies or small children.
        2. When Jon, our first child, was born, babies were a mystery that frightened me.
        3. That directly affected me in two ways: I was afraid that he would "break" easily, and I was clueless about how to interact with an infant or small child.
        4. I feel like I owe Jon an apology because "I had to learn on him."
    3. I said that becoming an effective father was a "one shot opportunity" with a child.
      1. That "one shot" lasts not much more than a decade.
      2. I certainly do not mean that you stop being a child's father in ten years.
      3. I certainly do not mean that you cannot improve as a father after ten years.
      4. I do mean that a father's effectiveness in his child's teen years is dependent on the relationship he builds with his child the first ten years of the child's life.
      5. When our children are grown, regardless of how much we learn and understand, we cannot go back and redo our fathering.
        1. I doubt that there are many good or bad fathers who would not like to do some things differently.
        2. One of the ironies of life is that we gain much of the wisdom and understanding we need to be a good father after our children are grown.
    4. Children cannot be programmed to become what we want them to be as adults.
      1. These are most powerful forces that will live in our adult children's hearts and minds:
        1. The values we taught them by the way we lived and acted.
        2. The concepts we helped them understand because we shared ourselves.
        3. The love we taught them through the love that we gave them.
      2. These three forces will influence their adult relationships more powerfully than any instruction we gave them or any demands that we placed on them.
      3. The time will come when our children will make their own choices.
        1. This will happen--whether we want it to or not.
        2. It will happen whether we think they are ready to or not.
        3. From that moment forward, what happens in our child's life will depend on his or her decisions.
        4. And we watch; and we rejoice; and we grieve--but they choose.
    5. When our children become adults, we are restricted in what we can share.
      1. We are restricted by opportunity.
        1. Because of the nature of our society and the reality our economics, families scatter.
        2. Scattering greatly decreases the opportunity to share.
      2. We are restricted by our children's perception of us.
        1. We do not stop growing and changing after our children leave home.
        2. But to our children, we are the same person he or she knew as a child.
        3. Because they do not live with us, they cannot see our development.
      3. We are restricted by transition.
        1. We have never lived in the world of our adult children.
        2. The world we lived in when we were their age was radically different.
        3. The daily world we live in differs radically from the daily world they live in.
      4. These three realities severely restrict the sharing we can do.

  3. "David, are there things that you wish you had done differently?" Certainly!
    1. I wish I had been more involved in my children's lives when they were small.
    2. I wish I had spent more time with them throughout their childhood.
      1. I was so involved in the church and church work that I did not spend the time with them that I needed to spend with them.
      2. I was so busy helping other people that I did not share enough of myself with them.
    3. I wish I had given Joyce much more help and support in those years.
    4. I told you that I did not know much about small children and babies, so I did not know how to interact with my children when they were small.
      1. But I worked a lot with teens in the church, at camp, and other contexts.
        1. I genuinely enjoyed my kids as teenagers.
        2. Those were anything but simple years, but I enjoyed them.
      2. When my children were small, I dreamed of the things we would do together when they were teens.
        1. But when they became teens, as all teens, they developed their own lives and relationships.
        2. There was no time or opportunity to do the things I dreamed of doing.
    5. As one father to other fathers, I share three thoughts with you.
      1. Don't try to live your life through your children.
      2. Build and sustain a loving relationship with your child quickly.
      3. Invest heavily in building a relationship in the first ten years of your child's life if you want to be a significant part of his or her teenage life.

A sober realization to fathers: the way our children look at us as a father powerfully influences the way our children will look at God as a Father.

If you could choose the person your child would become as an adult, what would you choose? Think about your answer, and examine it very closely.

May God give every father wisdom and courage. May every father search for wisdom and courage in Christ.

It's very special to watch a loving and confident father interact with an infant. The image of God being our Father is a wondrous image. Trust Him.

We need such a Father. That's why you need to be a child of God. You can make God your Father by making Christ your Savior. You make Christ your Savior by giving Him your sins. We invite you to Jesus Christ.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 21 June 1998

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