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Encouragement: What’s a Father to Do?

June 21, 2009
Sermon:  June 21, 2009
Text:  Matthew 7:9-11

Today on this Father’s Day as we continue our series of sermons on encouragement, I want to speak a word of support to all the dads. Father’s Day is one of those occasions fraught with hazards for the preacher.  Our experiences with our fathers are not all the same.  Not everybody has had the same good experience with their father that I have had with mine.  Some here have never known their father; he was an absentee. Some have had a very negative experience with their dad, while others are grieving today because their father has died.  Some may have had a wonderful experience with a foster dad or maybe an adopted dad.  Today, I want to speak especially to those men who are trying so hard to be good fathers.  I want to encourage you with words from Scripture and with thoughts that God has placed on my heart.

The Scripture to which we turn today is from Jesus’ message known as the Sermon on the Mount.  Follow along as I read from Matthew 7, Verses 9-11.  Hear now the Word of God for the people of God:

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you were evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

In the middle of a blustery night about two weeks ago, Clare and I heard a loud noise.  Actually, Clare heard the noise.  I slept through it.  She woke me up and said, “You have to go see what that noise was.  It sounded as if a tree has blown over.”  With the rain falling and the wind blowing, I went outside into the night with a flashlight but could see nothing.

The next day, I saw what had happened.  A very large limb had broken off one of the huge oak trees in our yard and fallen to the ground, just missing the propane tank used to fuel logs in a small fireplace.  I knew I needed to call somebody to remove this large limb, but Clare said, “We need to get someone who can check for any more dead limbs in those trees.”

Our son Kris recommended that we call Todd, a young man who is about Kris’ age, maybe a little older.  When Kris and Patrice moved into their home, Todd had cut down a number of pines infested with beetles.  Kris said, “Dad, he is just great.  He’s not really all that expensive, and he is so careful.”

When Todd came to look at the trees in our yard, he said, “Yes, you had a near miss here, but you still have a lot of dead limbs in these big trees that need to come out.”  He gave me an estimate, and I told him to go ahead with the work.

Friday a week ago, when he showed up by himself at our house, I asked, “Todd, are you going to do this job by yourself?”

He answered, “I had a helper until yesterday, but I had to let him go.  This kind of work has such a narrow margin for error.  I cannot have anybody who is not reliable working with me in these trees with a chainsaw.  Today, I am going to work alone.  Someone is coming to help me tomorrow.”

Clare and I watched as Todd positioned ropes in the trees.  With harnesses and pulleys, he managed to hoist himself into the trees.  He pulled his chainsaw up from the ground with another rope.  Todd swung around in our trees as if he were Tarzan.  It was absolutely amazing to watch him cut dead wood out of one tree, swing over to another, and tie himself into that one.  He worked diligently to remove many dead limbs.  I was astounded by his athletic ability, even by his acrobatic ability.

The next day Todd returned with a worker, and the two tackled the tallest trees, some granddaddy oaks, in our yard.  Todd climbed all the way to the top, removing dead wood.

Talking with Clare about his work, I asked, “Why in the world would a guy choose to do this kind of work?  Why would he choose this profession?”

Clare answered, “He would choose to do that profession for the same reason you choose to do the crazy job you have.  Why do you do your work?  Now, do not tell me about God.  I know you work for God, Kirk, but isn’t it true that you do the work because you care about our family?  You want to be the kind of father you believe God has called you to be.  Patrice has told me that Todd has a wife and two young daughters.  He is doing the same as you.”

About lunchtime that day, Todd’s wife and their two girls brought lunch for him and for his helper.  Indeed, Todd hangs by ropes in the trees, not only because he is good at it, but because he wants to provide for his family.

In this parable in Matthew 7, it is evident that Jesus knows that most fathers are trying to do their best to give good gifts to their children.  He says, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…If your children ask for bread, you are not going to give them gravel.  You are not going to give them a stone.  If your children ask for an egg, you are not going to give them a scorpion.  If your children ask for a fish, you are not going to give them a snake.”

Most dads I know really want to give good gifts to their children.  Right here in this Sanctuary today, most fathers want to be good.  We all know that we are far from perfect.  We have all made mistakes.  I certainly have made my share.  Whether you are a member or a visitor, surely you have the desire to do the best you can for your children.  We really want to give our children the very best gifts we can.

I know that some fathers just never learn to do that.  Some are negligent.  Some are absentees, as I said previously.  Statistics show that our prison system is filled with people who lived in an abusive situation.  More than half of those in our prisons grew up as abused children.  Many were neglected.

I also know, as I scan the faces of the fathers in this congregation, that no few of you have broken hearts.  A number of us have had our hearts broken by our children.  Many fathers have been disappointed by their children.

I would like to share with you seven gifts that fathers want to give their children.  The first of those gifts is to make provision for our children.  I Timothy 5:8 offers strong words for fathers who fail to be good providers: “The man who does not provide for his own family, and especially those of his own household, has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  Of course, providing in that sense does not just mean providing monetarily.  It does not just mean bringing home the groceries.  It certainly does mean that, among so many other things.

A number of fathers in our congregation are small business owners.  This tough economic time has made it difficult for them.  Others are professional people:  physicians, lawyers, accountants, teachers.  I see our physician members at the hospital early in the morning and late at night.  I know attorneys work hard.  All of us work hard.  In our gathering here this morning, a number of dads have lost their jobs.  They are unemployed, scraping and doing everything possible to try to make ends meet.  I pray for them every day.  I hope you will, too.

A second gift is protection.  You can stand in our parking lot any Sunday after church and watch dads fastening their children into car seats and locking down seatbelts.  You can go right out here on the rail trail and see dads riding bicycles with their children who are wearing helmets.  Go up to the new skate park, and look at the way dads are trying to protect their children with elbow pads and knee pads.  Protection goes far beyond head gear.  It goes far beyond pads.  Protection includes things as diverse as insurance and smoke alarms.  How many times has a father checked the tires on the car that a child was driving?  How many times has a father made sure that the brakes were properly maintained?  They do not want anything bad to happen.  They want to do everything they can to protect their children.

One dread that fathers have is that they will lose a child.  I think especially about fathers who have sons and daughters involved in military service.  The shield of protection finally boils down to prayer.  Dads protect their children, especially adults who are far away from home or are in harm’s way, through the life of prayer.

Fathers want to give their children guidance.  We need wisdom from above that will allow us to be the kind of guide our children need.  Sometimes that means helping them choose the right science project.  At other times, it means helping with far more important matters.  I think, this morning, about two families in particular who have been visiting Morningside.  They have been praying about the decision to join.  The fathers are going very carefully, being very deliberate, because a member of their family has been hurt in another church.  They do not want to make that mistake again.  They want to be sure to make a good decision so that their family, their children, will be in the right church.

Fourth, fathers give to their children the gift of encouragement.  Nathan Neighbors and Sean Lytle have developed a new website,, just for dads.  As a church, we want to do everything possible to help dads in their task.

Yesterday morning, about seventy fathers came to our Dad’s Breakfast and enjoyed biscuits.    I gave a brief devotion, talking about the wonderful way my own dad has been an encourager and recalling a time when our children were young.  I was at my dad’s house watching a college football game when our two oldest boys got into some kind of altercation.

Now, the men in our family have a unique way of watching a football game.  We sit on a sofa, kick up our feet, and lean back our head.  We might have one eye open.  More than likely, though, both eyes will be closed.  If we obtain peace of mind long enough, we will snore and snore loudly.  It is quite a concert when two or three of us are in the same room.  Snoring is a mark of a clear conscience.

When my two sons began arguing, I figuratively put on my striped shirt, found my whistle, and refereed.  Generally, my way of doing that was to say, “Look, you two guys have five minutes to work out this problem.  If you can’t get it worked out in that time, I’ll handle it.  It would be better for you two to work it out.”  Usually, they were able to settle the problem.

I returned to the sofa and plopped down next to my dad who now has eight children, forty-five grandchildren, and more than twenty great-grandchildren.  I said to him, “Sometimes this gets really old.  It takes a lot of energy to be a father.  You cannot do this sitting down.”

He said, “No, you can’t.”

I asked, “When we were little, did being a father ever just wear you out?  Sometimes I feel like I want to move to Montana, find a cabin next to a trout stream, and get snowed in for about six months all by myself.  Did you ever feel that way?”

He said, “Huh.  Still do.”

It is true that many of us would like to resign our role as father, but we have no escape to this responsibility, at least not one with integrity.  We are in this for life.  My father is almost eighty-nine, and he is still being a good father.  It never ends.

I was at the lumberyard one day when a prominent fellow in our community entered, downhearted and disgusted because his son had broken his heart so many times.  He told my father, “You cannot believe how many times I have had to bail him out of jail.  You cannot believe how many times I have had to go to court with him.  I am just tired of it.  I am ready to give up.”

My dad had the sternest look on his face I think I have ever seen.  He pointed his finger at this father and said, “Don’t you ever give up on that boy!  You are his father.  If you give up on him, who is going to believe in him?  You can never give up on your son.”

I am not so sure how much the man learned from that exchange, but I sure learned a lot.  Fathers must give their children encouragement.  Fathers must never give up on their children.

At the Barcelona Olympics, a young man named Derrick Redman was running in a long-distance race for Great Britain.  As he came around the last curve, he tore a hamstring and sprawled flat on his face on the track.  When someone stumbles and falls in the Olympics, no one is allowed to go to the athlete’s aid until the race is finished.  When Redman fell, however, a man came out of the stands and started tending to him.  He helped Derrick stand up, put one of Derrick’s arms over his own shoulder, and put his hand around Derrick’s waist.  The two hobbled together across the finish line.  Olympic officials were outraged.  Assisting an athlete across the finish line was totally against the rules.

Newspaper reporters interviewing this man asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Derrick’s father.”

“Didn’t you know that helping this runner is against the rules?”

“Yes, I knew it was against the rules.  Derrick has not trained all of these years and come all the way to Barcelona to end this race flat on his face a hundred yards from the finish line.  I was going to see to it that he finished the race.”

That father knows the gift of encouragement.

Three more gifts that fathers give their children are very predictable:  faith, hope, and love.  You have heard those three grouped together in I Corinthians 13.  We give our children faith primarily by example.  A father is supposed to be one of the spiritual leaders, one of the pastors, in his home.  Paul uses the phrase, “the church in your house” (Philemon 1:2).  Children learn to value prayer, to treasure the Scriptures, and to make moral decisions in the Christian home.  There, they learn to respect other people, all people, regardless of race or creed or color.  They learn by example the Golden Rule, treating others as if they were the other person.

How do children learn the gift of hope?  Again, they learn by example.  I know of no other way for a father to bestow the gift of hope than simply by giving unconditional acceptance and love, giving a listening ear, giving affirmation.  We fall too quickly to criticism.  Being a good parent is the art of catching your children doing things right and telling them so.  Our children’s dreams may not correspond to our dreams.  The child you wanted to be a professional baseball player may choose, instead, a career in music.  The daughter you wanted to be a ballerina may, instead, choose a career in astrophysics.  Allow your children to identify their dreams and encourage them to follow those dreams.

I was talking with one dad several weeks ago who said, “I know this is a bad time to make investments, but I have invested in my son’s business.  He needs me to believe in him, so I put my money where my mouth is.”

Finally, consider the gift of love.  Telling a person “I love you” is a very masculine act, though some men have trouble saying those three words.  Men, do not hesitate to say “I love you.”  I can promise you that saying those words from your heart will be a treasured gift.

How do we communicate the gift of love?  We do that by simply giving of our time, being with the people we love, offering them a tender touch.  We all know that at times, love has to be tough.  Tough love, though, given in the context of tenderness, is far more effective.  A plaque on the wall in our home says, “The greatest gift a dad can give his children is to love their mother.”  Children learn to pay attention.  When the father loves the mother, their children see an example of what marriage can really be.  They see a sterling example of what love really is.  As fathers give these good gifts to their children, the children learn to trust their dad, to obey him, to respect him, to love him.

Being a father is a daunting task.  Many, many hazards exist along the way.  Jesus said, recognizing our imperfection, “If you, then, though you were evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…”  What a statement!  “…how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who love him?”

Above all other gifts is the love for God.  The truth is that every one of us has two fathers.  Our earthly father might not have been very good.  He might have been absent or abusive.  He might have failed us.  Certainly no matter how good your father was, he was less than perfect.  Our heavenly Father, however, has a perfect love that casts out all fear.  Perhaps the greatest task of fatherhood is the task of transferring that trust, obedience, respect, and love for an earthly father to our heavenly Father.  When a father is able to do that, he has succeeded in this great undertaking.

I ask you today on this Father’s Day, do you know your Father in heaven?  Have you experienced His love?  Have you accepted that love offered to you through Jesus Christ?  If you have never done that, I extend to you an invitation on His behalf to accept His love through His Son, Christ Jesus.

Kirk H. Neely

© June 2009

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