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12,600 miles of ties

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Galatians 5:22

Today is Father’s Day–the Christmas of tie makers. How many neckties would you guess will be given to fathers today? 12,600 miles. That’s enough ties tied end-to-end to cross the country six times, with enough left over for 800,000 men to wear to church today.

This morning, as a father, I’m more interested in what God wants me to give to my children than in what they will give to me. I have plenty of ties in my closet. What do they need from me in theirs?

I want to answer that question for fathers, giving us God’s guidance for this wonderful privilege and tremendous responsibility. I need the help, and would guess that you do, too. And I want to speak to a second group as well. Father’s Day is not a holiday for us all. Some never had a father, or a good father. For some, this is a hard day. I’d like to offer you a good and faithful Father this morning, whatever your circumstances might be. We’ll do this first.

God is our best father

Let’s begin with some definitions. “Goodness” here translates agathosune in Greek, which means “goodness in action.” The word we studied last week, “kindness,” is potential agathosune; agathosune is “kindness” at work.

“Faithfulness” translates pistis, which means “faith” in relation to God and faithfulness in relation to people. Consistent, honorable, a person of absolute integrity and trustworthiness.

Now, do these words describe God? Jesus was the first Jewish rabbi ever to teach us to address God as “our Father.” What kind of a Father is he? Scripture says that he is a “good” Father. Listen to Nehemiah 9:35: “Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.” Hundreds of times the Scriptures call God “good.”

And the Bible claims that he is a “faithful” Father as well. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 asserts that “The [God] who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3 says “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

But this is sometimes hard to believe. In light of Kosovo and cancer, the wreck on I-20 and the tornadoes in Oklahoma, is God a good Father? Think about four facts:

This is not the world God intended it to be, or the world it would have been except for sin.

We must live with the consequences of wrong choices.

If God must account for the evil in the world, we must account for the good.

God loves us and relates to us in spite of all our failures.

Now measure God by our text. Does God model initiatory goodness with us? Let’s see. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) He took the initiative to find us, when we didn’t want to be found.

This was his Son’s mission in life: “The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11).

I know that God took the initiative in seeking me. When Julian Unger and Tony McGrady knocked on my door in Houston and invited me to ride their bus to church in 1973, I wasn’t thinking about church. Or God. Left to myself, I would likely have never taken the initiative to go to a church or seek out the gospel. God came for me, or I wouldn’t be here today. Nor, for that matter, would you.

Now measure God as Father by our other word—look at his consistent faithfulness with us. The Greek religions pictured whimsical gods, ready to throw a thunderbolt at anyone who displeased them. The world’s religions picture a God or gods who are distant from us, mysterious, capricious.

But the God of the Bible is consistent. He always keeps his promises. He is there when no one else is. Even in the hardest places of life: with Joseph in an Egyptian prison, Moses before a howling mob, Joshua on the bank of a torrential river, David before Goliath, Elijah before 400 enemy prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Daniel in the lion’s den, Peter before the enemies of Christ at Pentecost and John in prison on Patmos.

He promised: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2-3).

So, God is a good and faithful Father. Do you want such a Father today? All you need do is call upon him. Place your faith and life in his hands as his child. Ask him to be your Father. He wants this more than God wants anything else in all his creation. That’s why he made sure you’re here today, to draw closer to him as your Father.

God calls me to be with my children what he is with me

Now to our other target group on this Father’s Day. If you are a father, God calls you to model his initiatory goodness and faithfulness with your children today. The need has never been greater.

One in two American children is growing up today in a home where their biological father is not present. 72.2% of Americans surveyed agree that “the most significant family or social problem facing America is the physical absence of the father from the home.”

And when we’re present, often we’re not present. A group of 300 seventh and eighth grade boys surveyed the amount of time their fathers spent with them, over a two-week period. The average was 7.5 minutes per week

A recent national telephone survey revealed that more than half of American adults think fathers do not know what is going on in their children’s lives. A majority also believes that today’s fathers spend less time with their children than their fathers did.

Statistically, fathers are providing for their families financially better than ever before, but emotionally and spiritually, far less. How do we do this better? In what ways is God calling me to initiate goodness and faithfulness with my boys?

By making my family my highest life priority: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). In God’s economy, Janet and our boys come before my ministry, other ambitions, or any other priority in my life. Would your children say they are they your highest life priority today?

By loving their mother. Scripture is clear: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). With an unconditional, sacrificial commitment to her. Family counselors are unanimous in their assertion that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. To show his love for her consistently, and to be faithful to her at all costs. Would your children say you are giving them this gift today?

By initiating a relationship with my children. Again, the word translated “goodness” means kindness in action. Not just kind thoughts and feelings, but acts and deeds.

My strongest memories of my father are of those times when he surprised me with kindness. Gifts I had not expected; time he took off work to take us to the park, or on a trip. In fact, the last time I saw him alive was when he drove across town to give me money to help buy Janet’s engagement ring. I’ll always remember his kindness, with gratitude. For what initiative will your children remember you?

By modeling consistent integrity. My children will typically become what I am. Listen to two examples; “Ahaziah did evil in the eyes of the Lord, because he walked in the ways of his father and mother” (1 Kings 22:52); “Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success” (2 Chronicles 26:4-5).

It’s been said, “Until a boy is fifteen he does what his father says; after that he does what his father does.” One child development expert said it well: “No child will think more of God than he thinks of his own father.” I cannot lead children further than I am spiritually. My boys will become what I am more than what I say, and I speak for a living.

So, model consistent integrity for them. Last year’s youth camp speaker said it well: “Refuse to do in private what you fear to do in public.” If your children have exactly your personal integrity, will this be good?

A frontier preacher and his two sons found a stray dog and decided to keep it. The dog was coal black except for three white hairs on his tail. One day they saw an ad in the local paper for a lost dog which fit their stray perfectly, including those three white hairs. With the help of his boys, the preacher carefully pulled out the three white hairs.

A few days later the owner heard that the preacher had a dog like his and came by. But he couldn’t find the three white hairs, so he had to give him up. Later the preacher wrote, “I kept the dog, but I lost my boys.” Their names were Frank and Jesse James.

Conclusion

Friends and fathers, the Holy Spirit wants to help us. To help us have faith in God as our good and faithful Father, and to model his faithful goodness to each other. This is indeed the “fruit of the Spirit.” Will you ask the Spirit to grow it in your life?

Be clear: this will require a choice and probably a sacrifice on our part. Og Mandino’s book The Choice tells the story of Mark Christopher, an insurance salesman whose career had taken off like a rocket. He was his company’s youngest vice president, with the nickname “Mr. Success.” When he wasn’t selling, speaking, or teaching as an adjunct professor at a nearby university, he focused his energy and passion on golf.

Then came the morning Christopher would never forget. He was up at 6:30 on Sunday, waiting for his friends to pick him up on the way to the country club, when his two sons surprised him with a shout, “Happy Father’s Day, Dad!” They attacked him with hugs and kisses, and then presented him with homemade cards, each bearing the words, “To the greatest father in the world.” As he thanked them, Christopher really began to look at his boys, seeing them as if for the first time:

“Perhaps it was no more than an illusion created by the early morning mist seeping through the screen door, but Glenn, my twelve year old, seemed to be aging before my eyes. Or maybe it was just the first time I had taken a good look at him since I couldn’t remember when. He was handsome and, luckily for him, was getting to look more and more like his mother. Gosh, he had grown up. There was even a hint of fuzz above his upper lip; his hands seemed immense, and his voice had a break in it. Between my long hours at the office and university plus my weekends on the golf course, I hadn’t noticed his gradual transition from the infant I once bathed every night to the young man who now sat before me. The horrible thought suddenly hit me that he would be off to college in five years and more or less out of my life in ten.

“I turned my attention to Todd who was struggling to read aloud from the back of his giant cereal box. He was already in the first grade. It was only yesterday, wasn’t it, that I had paced outside the delivery room until I heard his first cry? Where did those six years go?”

When the horn honked and his friends called for him, Mark Christopher made his apologies and stayed home instead. The next morning he dictated his letter of resignation to his boss. He reset his priorities. In time he became what his boys had called him: “The greatest father in the world.”

What do you need to do, to be that father today?