Friday, June 23, 2017

Fathers of the Bible (Genesis 21:1-5, 35:27-29; I Chronicles 23:14-15) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A teenage boy had just gotten his driving permit.  He asked his father if they could discuss his use of the family car.  His father said, "I'll make a deal with you. You bring your grades up, study the Bible more, get your hair cut, and then we'll talk about it."   After about a month, the boy came back and again asked his father if they could discuss his use of the car. The father said, "Son, I've been very proud of you. You have brought your grades up, you've studied the Bible, but you didn't get your hair cut."  The young man replied, "You know, Dad, I've been thinking about that. I read in the Bible that Samson had long hair, Moses had long hair, Noah had long hair, and even Jesus had long hair."  "True son," his father said, "and everywhere they went, they walked."

Welcome on this Father’s Day.  A study from Penn State researchers published in the journal Child Development tracked nearly 200 families over a seven-year period.  The study found that time with mom and dad starts to drop when teenagers hit about the age of 15.  The study noted that, generally speaking, the more time teens spend with their dads, the higher their self-esteem, social competence, and sense of well-being.  Teens with involved fathers "may develop higher general self-worth because their fathers go beyond social expectations to devote undivided attention to them."   Yes, fatherhood is a critical role.

Are some fathers born great?  Leonard Ravenhill tells about a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village in Europe who walked by an old man sitting beside a fence.  In a rather patronizing way, one tourist asked, "Were any great men born in this village?"  The old man replied, "Nope, only babies.”

Today, we remember, honor and pray not so much for the ideal of fatherhood, but for real flesh and blood fathers.  Fathers who take fatherhood seriously and strive to be the best fathers they can be.  For fathers who treat their wives with love and respect as an example to their children.  We remember single fathers, married fathers, young and old fathers, foster fathers, step fathers and adoptive fathers.  We honor fathers who make promises and keep them, who stand by and support their families emotionally, spiritually and financially.

Today we pray for fathers who are separated from their children because of military service or because of problems in the family.  We pray for fathers who are grieving the death of a child, and for fathers who have a passionate desire to pass on spiritual and moral values to their children, and who give, not just material things - but their time, their love, their energy, their knowledge, themselves.

We also pray for fathers who do not support their children – emotionally or financially.  We pray for a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of attitude, that they will turn to God in repentance, that they will see the light and by God’s power and grace, mend their ways, and become the father’s God wants them to be and the father’s they are capable of becoming.

Who are some well-known fathers in the Bible?   Abraham left his home to follow the call of God.   Abraham was the father of the people of Israel, a leader and visionary.  He was constantly challenged by God and he met those challenges head-on.  When he and his wife Sarai were unable to conceive, God blessed the couple with their son Isaac.

God challenged Abraham by ordering Isaac be sacrificed. Though Abraham's heart was broken, he knew to trust in the Lord and at the last moment Abraham’s hand was stilled by God and Isaac's life was spared.  Abraham's difficult life is a reflection of difficult lives today.  Many modern fathers meet such challenges and learn, through experience, how to trust God.  Once that trust is developed, fathers pass that unyielding faith and trust to their children, who grow to love God as well.

Isaac is another well-known father.  Isaac married Rebekah, who was barren, like Sarah had been.  As a good husband, Isaac prayed for his wife, and God opened Rebekah's womb. She gave birth to twins:  Esau and Jacob.  No, Isaac wasn’t perfect, he favored Esau over Jacob. Isaac reminds fathers today that we are not perfect.   We need to grow and mature and learn, and be humble and grateful.  God calls ordinary men to be fathers, capable of doing extraordinary things.

Isaac obeyed God and followed his commands.  He became a leader and patriarch of the Jewish nation.  Isaac was faithful to God.  He never forgot how God saved him from death and provided a ram to be sacrificed in his place.   Isaac watched and learned from his father Abraham.  In an era when polygamy was accepted, Isaac took only one wife, Rebekah. He was a loyal husband and loved her deeply all his life.

Moses was another father.  He was the father of two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.  He also served as a father figure to the entire Hebrew people.  Moses trusted in God and led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land.  He loved them and helped discipline and provide for them on their 40-year journey to the promised land.  Moses seemed to be a larger-than-life character, but he was only a man. He shows today's fathers that overwhelming tasks can be achieved when we stay close to God.

Our last father is Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.  Though Jesus takes center stage, it is important to remember Joseph.  Joseph was responsible for raising the Christ child together with Mary.

It was a father’s job to prepare children for a trade.  Joseph passed on a skill to Jesus and trained Jesus to become a carpenter.  Joseph loved Jesus, protected him, provided for him, and raised Jesus up in the Jewish faith and tradition.  Joseph was a righteous man and was chosen to help care for Jesus in his childhood.  Joseph is an exemplary father figure for Jesus and the several children he later fathered.  Today, fathers can learn to be compassionate, loving and righteous after the model of Joseph.

In this light, I remind you of some basic biblical principles of Fatherhood.  God is our eternal Father.  Since human beings were created in the image of God, fathers are to reflect the image of God’s fatherhood.  Yes, that’s a tall order, a seemingly impossible one.  It is a role fathers strive to fulfill with humility and patience, trust and faith, and constantly seeking God’s grace, forgiveness and power.

Fathers are to love their children.  Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son to demonstrate both God’s love for sinners and a father’s love for his children.

Fathers are to teach and train their children.  A good father is an example and teacher for his children.  Ephesians 6:4 says: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Fathers, control your temper, practice self-control, do not provoke your children to anger.”  This includes teaching about God and faith.

A good father protects his children from harm.  This is one of the basic duties of a father.  Jesus used the analogy of a shepherd protecting his sheep, those in his charge, and likewise, fathers are to protect their children whom God has entrusted to them.

A good father provides for the family.  The father who loves his family strives to and works hard to provide for them.    This is understood broadly as providing material necessities, but also providing emotionally and spiritually in terms of prayer and being a Christian example.

Writer Mark Twain said: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant; I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

Our culture has dramatically changed.  Whom do we hear about?  We hear about superstar and super-paid athletes, successful entrepreneurs, celebrities and entertainers.  Yesterday I scanned the internet. I found hundreds of articles on almost every subject, but not one about Fathers or Father’s Day.   So how about elevating an important person and role in our society; a father, a committed father, a loving father, a man of faith, a good family man.  It is a role established by none other than God.   Amen!

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