Monday, June 17, 2013

A Clearer Vision From Dad

The children begged for a hamster, and after the usual fervent vows that they alone would care for it, they got one. They named it “Danny.”

Two months later, things had not gone as planned. Mom found herself responsible for cleaning and feeding the creature. So, she took it upon herself to find a prospective new home for it. The children took the news of Danny's imminent departure quite well. One remarked, "He's been around here a long time, we will miss him." "Yes," Mom replied. "But he's too much work for one person, and since I'm that one person, I say he goes."

Another child offered, "Well, maybe if he wouldn't eat so much…” or, "If he wouldn't be so messy we could keep him."

But Mom was firm.

"It's time to take Danny to his new home now, go get his cage."

With one voice the children in tearful outrage shouted…

"Danny? We thought you said Daddy!"

Poor dads, sometimes we just get no respect!

You know, there is some truth to that statement. I was talking with a friend of mine a few years ago about the annual “Father’s Day sermon.” She said something quite interesting. She said, “Are you going to honor fathers or challenge them to be better?”  She then said, “Mother’s Day sermons have a tendency to honor mothers.  But Father’s Day sermons have a tendency to tell fathers all the ways they fall short!”

She’s right. Even as a father, I’d never thought of that. But, she was right.

So, this morning, I’m going to take a page from the “Mother’s Day book” and honor our Fathers. But, I certainly will not be the first to do this. Just think for a moment how “Father” is used in Scripture. Obviously, when many religious people hear the name “Father,” they think of God. But why do you think those ancient Jewish people settled on this name as the primary description of God? It’s not as if God possesses only masculine, father-like characteristics. God is even given feminine qualities in parts of scripture. On one occasion, God is described as a mother hen gathering her chicks beneath her wings. But, still, the Jews settled on the name “Father” for God.

I, for one, think that says a lot about fathers. In their minds, the closest analogy they had for God was “Father.” Because “fathers” in that culture held many God-like characteristics. He was “Protector.” He was “Teacher.” He was “Disciplinarian.” And, especially, He was one who loved!

I want to talk about this last characteristic.

We could unpack scripture with examples of a father’s love for his children. The Prodigal Son story, the Abraham and Isaac story, the Jacob and Joseph story, but I want to suggest that there is another example of a father’s love in scripture that often gets overlooked. In fact, at first glance it looks to have very little to do with “fatherhood” at all!

Let’s look over at Ephesians chapter 5…

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.  Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. 
Ephesians 5: 25-33.

This analogy is often used throughout scripture to describe God’s relationship with His people.

In Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hosea, God is described as being in marriage relationship with Israel. Throughout the New Testament, Christ is described as the “bride” of the church.

Have you ever wondered why this analogy was used so often? I have a theory. Sometimes it is difficult for you and I to fully understand who God is. Our minds are too small to get around such a big topic.
We have nothing in our world that can really describe the greatness of God. So, God chose those things most precious to us in order to give us just a glimpse of His greatness. It is as if God looked in our minds and tried to perceive what we held in highest esteem. And those things, He held up and said “I’m like that, only better! I’m like precious silver and diamonds…only better. Or I’m like a “never failing stream”…only better. And here: My love for you is like the love between a husband and a wife…only better!

OK, why this passage on Father’s Day?

Today, fathers around this world are being honored for their roles in the lives of their children. This morning, ties were opened around the globe! Many of you have them on this morning. I see that some of your children love you more than others. I think it appropriate on a day when we receive so much tribute that we are reminded of our primary function in life. Your primary function is not to make money. Your primary function is not to get a big house or buy nice clothes. Your primary function is not even to make sure your family can eat out every Sunday afternoon. Your primary function is to model for your family Jesus. We are accustomed to getting presents on Father’s Day, but I encourage you to give one back today. And here’s an idea for a great gift:

The greatest gift you can give your children is to love their mother! The idea is this: when they see how much you love her, maybe they’ll have a little bit better idea of how much Christ loves us! The fact is, many people in our world have a faulty image of God the Father, because their own fathers (and others) have failed to model this kind of love.

I recently read from an internet blog this message from a teenager:

I wish my parents had known that unless marriage partners truly love one another, there is little they can teach their own children about the love of God or Christian living. 

In a world filled with fathers of this type, I want to stop and say thank you to all of you who have taken your charge seriously. I know there are some strong marriages in this room. By “strong,” I don’t mean perfect. I’m convinced there is no such thing as a perfect marriage—except for mine! No, by perfect, I mean those that have chosen to endure. I once attended a dinner for couples whose marriages had lasted 50 years or more (an annual event at Broadway). There was a room full of people! Know this, you’ve not only enriched your own lives for reaching such a mark, you’ve enriched the lives of your family (both physical and spiritual), through you we understand a little bit better God’s love for His people.

So to all of you who have taken this charge seriously, this morning we say thank you. Thank you for taking your covenant seriously. Most importantly, thank you for helping us see Jesus a little more clearly.

Allow me to share a struggle of mine with you. These “Father’s Day sermons” have become more difficult for me the past few years. Many of you know that my own father passed away from cancer in the Spring of 2003. A year later, my grandfather passed away. So, at the age of 27, I was the patriarch of my extended family. That was a very strange feeling.

One of the bittersweet moments of this journey came the day before dad’s funeral. Kim and I had gone to Oklahoma because dad was getting worse. We had no idea he was about to die. We thought we had many months left. But by the time we arrived, he was already in a coma. After waiting for two more days, he finally passed away. So, the entire family was there in the days preceding dad’s death. And we had some great conversations about dad’s life. Funny stories. Sad stories. Some of you who have been through these experiences know that those days become a blur. We talked about a lot of things in those couple of days. But nothing had really set in yet. It didn’t seem real yet and in fact, it didn’t even seem real to me after he died. That moment arrived two days later.

I was sitting in my parent’s living room looking through old pictures for a slideshow we were putting together for dad’s funeral. My sisters were listening to music for the slideshow while the rest of us were looking through pictures. I am ordinarily about as unemotional as one can be. One of my good friends has a nickname for me: “Iceman”. I’ve just never been very emotional, a trait I picked up from my dad.
But all of the sudden, out of nowhere, looking at pictures, listening to music, there was just the wrong (or right) combination, and I just started sobbing.

I came across a picture of mom and dad from a few years ago. And just as I looked at that picture a song started playing. Some of you know the Philip’s, Craig, and Dean song, “I Want to Be Just Like You” If you haven’t, let me TRY and read the words to you:

He climbs in my lap for a goodnight hug
He calls me Dad and I call him Bub
With his faded old pillow and a bear named Pooh
He snuggles up close and says, "I want to be like you"
I tuck him in bed and I kiss him goodnight
Trippin' over the toys as I turn out the light
And I whisper a prayer that someday he'll see
He's got a father in God 'cause he's seen Jesus in me

Lord, I want to be just like You
'Cause he wants to be just like me
I want to be a holy example
For his innocent eyes to see
Help me be a living Bible, Lord
That my little boy can read
I want to be just like You
'Cause he wants to be like me

Got to admit I've got so far to go
Make so many mistakes and I'm sure that You know
Sometimes it seems no matter how hard I try
With all the pressures in life I just can't get it all right
But I'm trying so hard to learn from the best
Being patient and kind, filled with Your tenderness
'Cause I know that he'll learn from the things that he sees
And the Jesus he finds will be the Jesus in me
Right now from where he stands I may seem mighty tall
But it's only 'cause I'm learning from the best Father of them all

I cried because I realized something right then. Through my father, I had met my Father. And through his love for my mother, I had learned about the love of God for us. As I looked at that picture and listened to that song, I thought, I can’t see God, I can’t fully comprehend God, but thank you dad for giving me a glimpse.

Father’s, this morning, I thank you for giving us clearer vision.

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