A Blueprint For Fathers
Today is Father's Day. Of course, it is an important day, but it is not the cash cow for the greeting card industry that Mother's Day is. However, like Mother's Day, Father's Day is a big day for long distance companies. Actually, fewer calls are made on Father's Day than are made on Mother's Day, but the long distance companies make more money on Father's Day, because a significant number of the calls home are collect. Kids wants to wish Dad a happy Father's Day, they just expect him to pay for the call. Some things never change.
But we cannot deny the impact that a father can have on a child. One successful man said, "Yes, I'm a self-made man, but my dad made the blue print."
Today we will look at a blueprint for fatherhood, found in the most recognizable verse in all the Bible: John 3:16. You probably already have it memorized:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
If you're a father, this verse will give you some ideas of what it means to be a good dad. If you're a child, and you no longer have an active relationship with your father due to divorce or death or distance, this verse teaches us 4 ways our heavenly Father relates to us. Let's take a look at each one. First of all...
1. A father loves.
Jesus said, (v. 16) "For God so loved the world..."
My experience as a father has given me insight into two spiritual concepts: 1) What it means to love. 2) What it means to be loved.
We may strive to love others unconditionally—our spouse, our friends, our siblings—but it doesn't come naturally to us. This kind of unconditional love is something you have to develop.
For example, you may love your wife unconditionally today, but you haven't always. You didn't love her unconditionally before you met her. When you first began dating, you didn't love her unconditionally. If you had found out in that initial stage of your relationship that she was, say, a Third World terrorist spy, more than likely your feelings for her would have withered away. Today, you may love her with all your heart, but it is a love she has earned, to a certain extent, by being the wonderful person she is.
Too often, this is how we think God loves us. We think his love for us grows the more he gets to know us, and the more we do things worthy of his love. It doesn't work that way, and becoming a parent teaches us this.
The moment your children come into the world, you love them. Period. He or she has done nothing to earn your love, but you love them anyway—simply because they're yours. And you will keep loving them, no matter what. This is unconditional love, and virtually all parents have it. If you're a parent, think of the love you have for your children, and realize: this is the best human example of God's love for us. It's not based on performance or merit. It's based on the fact that we are his.
I have never met a father who has said, "I don't love my children." Of course, all fathers love their children. But here's where too many of us fathers drop the ball: we don't express it. We don't say it and we don't show it. Or we show our love only at certain times, in reward for certain types of behavior. As a result, our kids get the idea that our love for them is conditional.
The people in your life can't read your feelings, they can only read your actions. They can't hear what you're thinking, they can only hear what you say. That's why it is crucial for a father to express his love for his children in what he says and what he does.
Our heavenly Father expressed his love to us again and again. Even in the garden, when Adam and Eve had sinned, God took care of them—he made clothes for them. Throughout Scripture God affirms his love for us. We know he loves because he says so. (Deuteronomy 7:7, 13; 23:5; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Isaiah 43:4; Countless Psalms;...I could go on and on).
God tells us he loves us, and he shows his love for us. His ultimate act of love was sending his son Jesus Christ into the world to die for our sins.
Maybe your father didn't know how to express his love for you. If so, you can be sure he regrets it. But don't make the mistake of transferring your earthly father's weaknesses to your heavenly Father. God loves you unconditionally. He said so, and he backs up his words with actions. Regardless of the relationship you have with your earthly father, you can have a personal, heart-to-heart relationship with your heavenly Father. He loves you unconditionally, just because you're you, just because you're his. That's what a father does. He loves. Dads, don't forget to show your children how much you love them. Secondly...
2. A father gives.
Jesus said, (v16) God so loved the world that he gave...
What did God give to us? His son. He sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and live with him forever.
This is the ultimate gift God has given us, but it is not the only gift he has given us. The foundation of our relationship with God is built on all he has given us: our lives, our homes, our parents, our skills, our intellect, and on and on. When we allow him to, he gives to us everyday of our lives. He meets our needs, he answers our prayers, he tackles our problems. He is a giving God.
If you're a father, there are two primary things you need to give to your kids. 1.) Your money. 2.) Your time. Both are important. An abundance of one doesn't negate the need for the other. Your children need you to provide for them materially, and they need to for you to be there for them emotionally.
Years ago, when I was single, I was visiting a friend who was married and had a child. His little boy was playing on the floor in front of us as we talked, and my friend made an odd comment. He pointed to his son and said, "There goes my chance for ever having a boat. As soon as I get the hospital bill paid, he'll need braces, and by the time I get those paid for, he'll want a car. When it's paid off, it'll be time to pay for college. By then I'll be too old to want a boat." He was being facetious...I think. He was also, to a limited extent, speaking the truth. Being a father requires sacrifices on our part. There are some things we have to do without in life because we have a greater obligation: to provide for our children.
Robert Schuller once said he chose to be a failure at golf so that he could be a success as a father. He realized he didn't have time to pastor a growing church, manage an international TV ministry, write best-selling books AND play golf AND be an attentive father all at the same time. Something had to give, so he dumped golf. It was a sacrifice he considered well worth it.
As a father, there are sacrifices you will have to make. Undoubtedly, you've made many sacrifices already. These are part of the job description, and part of the joy of being a father. Your kids may never fully understand how much you sacrifice for them. In my humble opinion, that's the way it should be. The last thing your kids need to hear is, "If it weren't for you I would have a boat."
Looking back, I can see how my parents sacrificed for me, in big ways and small ways. I am thankful for the sacrifices they made. I am also thankful they never did anything to give me the impression that if I weren't in the picture, they could drive a nicer a car or take better vacations. They never gave me a reason to think that, and I never did. (It did occur to me at some point that I could have a bigger room if my sister wasn't around, but there was nothing I could do about that.)
A father gives to his children. He gives time and he gives money. Both are essential, and we have to be diligent to maintain a delicate balance between the two. It would be easier to be just the provider, and let the wife take care of raising the kids, but if the 1950's taught us anything, it taught us that this model doesn't work. Kids need their father to be more than a provider. They need him to be emotionally available, too.
Fathers, we need to be available for our children. I have a policy at the office: my kids' calls get put through to me no matter what I'm doing. They rarely need to call—maybe once or twice a month—but they know whenever they need to get through to me, they can.
If spending time with your father isn't an option, here's something to keep in mind. Your heavenly Father is always available. You can call on him anytime, day or night. You can talk to him about your troubles, your fears, your dreams, and he will listen. He is always available. That's what a father does. He gives. He is there for his kids. Thirdly...
3. A father requires.
John 3:16 is God's plan of salvation. It shows us what he does for us—he gave his son so that we can be saved—and it shows us what he requires of us:
(v. 16) ...that whosoever believes in him...
We have a role to play in our own salvation. God requires that we believe in him. He doesn't expect more of us than we can give, but he does expect to do what we can. We don't have the capacity to be perfect. We don't have the capacity to pay the price for our own sins. But we do have the capacity to believe. This is what God requires of us.
A good father has certain expectations for his children, certain requirements that must be met. He isn't unreasonable about it, he doesn't demand more than a child can give, but he does require a certain level of responsibility from his children.
John Grisham's book The Testament begins with a story about a man who succeeded in business beyond what most people could imagine, amassing a fortune of eleven billion dollars. Along the way, he married three times and fathered seven children in those marriages. He provided for all of them financially (but he was emotionally absent as a father), and never expected much of them. He gave each child a no-strings-attached gift of $5 million on their 21st birthday, and each child squandered the money. Eventually, each child wound up deep in debt, resentful of their father, eagerly waiting for him to die so they could collect their share of his will. Though this man was a success in the eyes of the world, he was a failure as a father and his children paid the price. Though the story is fiction, it reflects the truth.
It's similar to the Old Testament story of Eli. Eli was a man of God, a priest who served in the temple. Though Eli he was faithful as a priest, he was a failure as a father. The sons of Eli had no respect for the law of God. They defiled sacrifices, they extorted from those who brought offerings to God, and they slept with the women who served in the temple. Eli knew about their behavior, but did nothing about it. As a result, God judged Eli.
A father has a responsibility to set the standard for his children, to say, "This is the way we live, and nothing less is acceptable." And of course, it is the father's responsibility to lead by example—a father's attitude must be "Do as I do", not merely "do as I say." Joshua set the example for all fathers when he said,
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15).
A father requires his children to act like they belong to him. He doesn't demand more than they can give, and he doesn't base his love on his child's behavior—but he does expect the child to do his part. Just like our father requires that we do our part: we must believe in his son. Fourthly...
4. A father prepares his child for the future.
(v. 16) ...that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
God has created a future for you and me. He is offering us eternal life. He doesn't want us to spend eternity without him, he wants us to live forever in his presence, and he provided a way to make that happen.
He did this by sending his son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die on the cross for our sins. When we put our faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven, and God gives us eternal life.
Christianity isn't about man finding his own way to God. It's about God reaching out to us through his son. God had a vision for your future—a future spent in heaven with him forever—and he provided a way for you to get there.
In the same way, earthly fathers need to do what they can to direct the future of their children in a way that will most benefit the child.
I say this rather cautiously, because we all know examples of fathers who go overboard in this area: "You're going to be a doctor and that's all there is to it!" We've all seen fathers who try to realize their dreams vicariously through their sons. This extreme attitude is not the kind of direction I'm talking about. Just because we have seen examples of fathers who do this the wrong way doesn't mean we should shy away from doing it the right way.
Fathers should prepare their children for the future in three primary areas.
• A father should help his child prepare spiritually for the future by bringing them in a Christian atmosphere, encouraging them to be involved in church, and challenging them to grow in their personal relationship with Christ.
• A father should also help his child prepare for the future of his or her career. He should help his children identify their gifts, skills, and interests, and help them discover the kind of work that is best for them. He should encourage them to pursue their dreams. He should help them prepare for the challenges they will face. He should give them his total support as enter life as an adult.
• A father should also help his children prepare for developing relationships. A father should teach his children the kind of person to choose as friends, the kind of person to date. Of course, children learn from example, and they will, in many ways, mirror the relationship you have with your spouse. But without specific direction, they won't know the kind of person they should marry.
There's a man in our church who has six grown children. He was always a loving father, and he is very close to each one of his children today. He brought them up in church, he encouraged them to work hard and pursue success in life, but he never talked to them about who to date or what kind of person to marry. Today, five of his six children are divorced and/or in their second marriage. He once said to me, "My biggest failure in life is that I never taught my children to marry well. Even though Betty and I had a good marriage, we never talked to our children about how to choose a mate. All of my children expected their marriages to be like ours, but they didn't marry well, and they weren't ready to face the problems that come with marriage."
Our heavenly Father has prepared a future for us in heaven. Earthly fathers must help their children prepare for their future on earth.
CONCLUSION God gives us a blueprint for fatherhood, because he is the perfect father. He loves us, he gives to us, he requires that we follow him, and he prepares a future for us. These are things we can do for our children—not as a tyrant, but as a gentle, loving, caring father.
If your father is gone, if you didn't have the relationship with your father that you would have wanted, you can take comfort in the fact that God is your father, and he is exactly the kind of father you want. He loves you, and he will help you experience fulfillment in this life and for all eternity, if you will put your faith in him.