Father’s Day 2016: A sermon you didn’t hear from any pulpit last weekend.
Father’s Day and Mother’s Day couldn’t be more different. Mothers are heralded as role models and treated to flowers and lunch. Fathers are admonished to get their act together, leaving men’s heads hanging with a few appreciative wives clutching their husband’s arm (“He’s not talking about you, Sweetheart…”). The other wives simmer or elbow him in the ribs, hoping the message has “gotten through…”
Church, God commands that we honor both parents. We’re going to do that today. This sermon uses Paul Harvey’s 1964 monograph “If I Were the Devil” to lay out what fathers mean to God, what they face today, and what we need to do to honor men and transform our ministries.
FATHERHOOD DEFINES YOUR HERITAGE “…this is my promise: Instead of Abram, your name will be Abraham, for I’ve made you a father of many nations.”[ Gen 17:4-5]
Did you know the word “father” occurs over 1,100 times in the Bible [NIV]? That’s twice as often as love , three times more than mother . Fatherhood is an essential idea. Abram’s name, “Exalted Father” was an embarrassment. He had no children. God promised to make him “Father of Many,” and by God’s grace he had sons with Sarah. 3,000 years later the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish peoples still identify themselves with father Abraham. Matthew even tracks Jesus’ lineage to Abraham to prove Christ’s legitimacy as king of Israel.
Jesus used fatherhood to bring home a spiritual reality: Scripture says we come into this world by the desire of our earthly fathers, but we’re adopted by our Heavenly Father through Christ. Jesus says you are set free from something when you are adopted by God. He told the Jewish leaders, “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” [John Ch. 8] There is a supernatural change from being the child of an earthly father – ultimately Adam – to being God’s child.
This is crucial because so many people struggle with their relationship with God because they didn’t have a great father. Many of you had great relationships with your dads, but not everyone. Some don’t even know their father. But that doesn’t mean fatherhood is meaningless. If I were the devil, I would dismantle the whole notion of fatherhood, so people would find it impossible to understand what it really means to be adopted into God’s family, with God as their Father.
HONORING FATHERS IS PRACTICE FOR HONORING GOD – “‘Honor your father and mother’ is the first commandment with a promise…”
When the Disciples asked how to pray, Jesus answered with many ‘whats’: Pray for God’s kingdom to be established, that God would meet daily needs, forgive us, etc. But Jesus started with the ‘Who’. “Our Father” translates to Aaba, Aramaic for “Daddy.” Jesus said to address God as Father. That’s a very personal and intimate thing to tell us to do! Now, notice how respectfully he prayed – even though He was equal to God, He honored his Father, submitting to his Father’s will, even to die for our sin. Jesus submitted to his stepdad Joseph, too, along with His mother Mary. I think it’s great that God gave the Creator of the Universe a carpenter for a stepdad. Jesus identified with Joseph. “Wasn’t this the carpenter’s son?” they asked. So we have Jesus’ personal example of how to “honor your parents.” God established how the concept of honor should be taught, and where – and it starts at home.
Honor and authority go hand in hand. Just like marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, parents are a picture of God’s loving authority. This authority can be abused of course. Paul admonished fathers specifically not to exasperate their children. But God also said that a father who disciplines his kids is demonstrating God’s love. So, honoring fathers helps kids practice for heaven. And don’t be misled – dishonoring fathers is a sin. Remember what happened to Noah’s son Ham when he dishonored his dad? If I were the devil, I would destroy the honor of children for fathers, so they’d find it impossible to honor their Heavenly Father.
By the way, what’s Mom’s role in honoring Dad? Listen up, Moms: This will transform your home!
God created mankind in his image, and since that’s an enormous thing, he shared the load by building love into women and respect into men. Paul commanded: “…Wives, honor your husbands as unto the Lord” for a reason. Emerson Eggerichs wrote that unconditional respect is as powerful to men as unconditional love is to women. Don’t miss this, ladies: Conditional respect is not biblical. Can you imagine hearing “I would love you if only…” Yet how many men have heard “You gotta earn my respect!”? And how many of their children have overheard that too? A study out last week revealed that over a million men each year die from the effects of nagging and disrespect at home. This is serious stuff.
If I were the devil, I would whisper to women that respect for a husband is old-fashioned or abusive. And I’d say that just loud enough for the children to hear.
HONORING FATHERS REVOLUTIONIZES THE SOCIETY WE ARE SENT TO CHANGE – “Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is that not what it means to know Me?” declares the LORD. [Jer. 22:16]
Fatherhood is at the root of many things the Church wants to influence in our community. According to Dr. Warren Farrell, dads are crucial in whether a child will develop compassion, impulse control, memory, and adaptability to change. He found that infants with dads at home were considerably ahead in personal and social development. On the other hand, he also found this about father-absent homes:
4X more likely to live in poverty. (U.S. Census Bureau)
More likely to suffer emotional or behavioral problems, and children of single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children with married mothers. (Journal of Marriage and Family)
2X greater risk of infant mortality (National Center for Health Statistics)
More likely to commit a crime or go to prison – and 20% of prison inmates had a father in prison. (Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs)
Family structure significantly predicts delinquency. (Journal of Youth and Adolescence)
Teens without fathers are 2X as likely to be involved in early sexual activity and 7X more likely to be a pregnant adolescent. (Child Development Journal)
Mothers with live-in partners had more than 8X the rate of maltreatment and over 10X the rate of abuse and more than 6X times the rate of neglect. (Child’s Bureau)
Fatherless youth are at significantly higher risk of substance use. (Social Science Research)
Obese children are more likely to live in father-absent homes than are non-obese children. (National Longitudinal Survey of Youth)
They are 2X more likely to drop out or repeat a grade of high school. Father involvement at home leads to a higher likelihood of their children getting mostly A’s. (U.S. Department of Education). It’s tragic then that in a typical elementary school classroom over 1/3 of them
are growing up without their biological father in the home. (U.S. Census)
From the Tsarnaev brothers to the University of Central Florida to the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., nearly every shooting over the last year in Wikipedia’s “list of U.S. school attacks” involved a young man whose parents divorced or never married in the first place. To address these problems Dr. Farrell proposed a Council on Men and Boys to the Whitehouse in 2010, a complement to the current WH Council on Women and Girls. It was dismissed outright by the Whitehouse, whose priority is promoting government funding and programs in support of single moms.
We should ask where have all those good dads gone? Conventional wisdom says they’re lazy and good for nuthin. But interviews with thousands of men reveal they are looking at the fatherhood playing field today and see the rules stacked against them. They expect to be taken advantage of for their sense of honor and hard work, or be accused of something just for being a man. Marriage has become a huge risk. 80% of divorce is initiated by women, and when mom leaves they will probably lose their kids and half of their pay to child support because “in the best interest of the child” nearly always means “in favor of the mother.” Divorced mothers often control dad’s time with his kids as a threat to keep the child support payments coming, or drive other dads underground to avoid jail. Did you know the agencies created to assist families don’t routinely include men’s names on case files, even when the parents are married? How about the fact that states receive matching federal funds for every child support arrangement established for single mothers, but not fathers?
Dr. Helen Smith writes that 80% of suicides every year are men, many due to divorce and child custody issues. Meanwhile, the media shows fathers as chronic idiots or serial abusers. Men are taught from college on into adult life that laws protect women against abuse, but not them when they are falsely accused of it, or when they themselves are abused. Even the message of Christian men’s ministry today is “Men, you need to get your act together.”
They’re not asking for help. God built men to seek help on behalf of others – for their wives, children, or a cause – but not for themselves. Their help is not wanted and the risk is too great. Government says it has that job now. So men are checking out rather than causing a fuss. They have no farm to attend to. And thanks to all those women who don’t honor themselves, they have all the physical attention they need without a father’s commitment.
Yes, I think the devil has already done a remarkable job convincing all of us that dads are the problem, not the solution, and that the government is a better father.
WHEN WE HONOR FATHERS, WE BUILD UP THE CHURCH. “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” [Josh 24:15]
Finally, Author Robbie Low cites years of family research, including a 1994 Swiss survey, which concludes it is the religious practice of the father that above all determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children. When both parents attend regularly, he said, three quarters of their kids will attend church regularly or at least off and on. This number doesn’t change significantly with mom’s absence. However, if dad is absent and mother is the regular attender, only 1 in 50 will become regular attenders themselves. Without fathers, we can expect over 2 out of 3 young people to be lost completely to the Kingdom. Like the government and society, the Church has accepted fatherlessness as normal. Lowe says the church’s mission is in jeopardy if fatherhood continues in decline. Low concludes: “Those children who [stay in church] despite of their father’s absence may instinctively understand the community of nurture that is the motherhood of the Church. But they will inevitably look to fill that yawning gap in their spiritual lives, the experience of fatherhood that is derived from the true fatherhood of God.”
If I were the devil, I would make the church irrelevant to men so they would abandon their call to lead at home and in the church, and children would walk away.
Well, the devil appears to be winning, but we know God has given us victory. What do we do now?
FIRST, we embrace God’s priorities for fatherhood. Author John Piper was astonished at what Old Testament prophet Malachi prophesied about Elijah announcing the arrival of Jesus Christ. “I would expect a look back at the faithful work of God in the past and a look forward to the final victory,” he wrote. “Instead, Malachi says that God’s priority is to ‘Turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.'” Luke confirms this about John the Baptist when he wrote “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” [Luke 1:17]. God wants to break those curses and build those bridges by first honoring fathers.
SECOND, we must be a church that honors fathers unconditionally. That honor must resonate with our kids. God help us if we teach little ones to dishonor their fathers. Jesus said, “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and be drowned in the bottom of the lake.” We need to pray for grace, reconciliation, and cooperation among divorced couples raising kids under separate roofs so Christian dads can remain influential in their children’s’ lives. And pray for Godly male influence in the lives of kids being raised by single moms.
THIRD, we must stop tolerating father-dishonoring messages. Treating moms well does not mean dissing dads. We are ultimately accountable to God our Father to encourage both moms and dads with godly love, honor, and respect in the family of god.
FOURTH, we must inspire dads, give them responsibility, and support them. Men are created to respond to heartfelt and specific recognition. The military is good at this. Ladies, another hint: This works at home too. Take a look at all ministry areas – music, Christian education, small groups – and create value for both men and women. Support fathers and mothers in raising our kids.
FINALLY, we need to ask what men are getting from our church. What’s our father outreach strategy? Do we just want their wallets or do we engage their potential? Do single parent programs include single dads? Do we choose some manly worship music once in a while? How about learning about that Jesus in Revelations on a white horse with a sword in his hand?
People of God, It’s not a coincidence that Rhode Island, with the highest number of fatherless families, also has the nation’s greatest financial and spiritual poverty. It’s also not a coincidence that the Brownsville Revival and Pensacola Outpouring began on Father’s Day, 1995.
If we want revival, we have to decide right now whether today is the day we start honoring our Fathers – both heavenly and human – and put the devil on the run. This is the next step to being the church God is calling us to be.