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It’s Never Easy To Be A Father

Luke 2:41-52

No sermon is so bad that you can’t get one good thing out of it. No book is so bad that you can’t get one good idea from its pages. No movie is so bad that you can’t find one good line within it. Take, for example, the movie Always directed by Steven Spielberg. It was an inferior movie but it had one good line in it. The lead character in the movie died in a crash, and then he returned as a ghost to tell the woman he loved, “I loved you. I should have said the words. I should have told you and shown you I love you because I now know that the love we hold back is the only pain that follows us here.” Don’t miss that please, “the love we hold back is the only pain that follows us here.” Now hold that thought in your mind for just a while.

It is not easy to be a father. It never has been. Anyone who has ever been a father—or a mother for that matter—knows what a daunting challenge parenthood can be. The reason it’s so hard is because we are all amateurs. No one is an expert. No parent I know is mature enough, good enough, wise enough, strong enough, patient enough, clear enough to be a parent—and I speak from personal experience. Therefore, the only answer for us is to throw ourselves upon the mercies and resources of our God. When I speak, then, of godly fathers today, I do not mean fathers who live and parent perfectly—rather I mean fathers who depend completely upon God’s grace in both their living and their parenting. Dr Larry Crabb has a wonderful book entitled The Silence of Adam. In that book he states that a godly father speaks three messages to his children, “It can be done…I believe in you…You are not alone.” All of us as males—as biological fathers, as adoptive fathers, as surrogate fathers, as stepfathers, as grandfathers, or just as male role models—all of us can deliver those three messages to the children coming after us. “It can be done…I believe in you…You are not alone.” Let me fill in the blanks here by using the experience of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, because if you think it’s hard to be a father now, think what it would have been like for Joseph especially given the circumstances he had to face. Take a look with me …

A godly father delivers the message to his children, “It can be done.” It is a message of courage.

Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was indeed a man of courage. One example: When his family was threatened by the rage of murderous King Herod, he gathered up his wife and child and braved the long, hazardous crossing of a forbidding desert into Egypt. Then in a land not his own, living in constant fear of detection, he provided care and protection for his family during an exile of at least several years in duration. It was that kind of courage which I think Jesus came to respect in Joseph. He was a godly father who delivered to his Son the message of courage—“It can be done.” Later on, when Jesus faced the pain of both opposition and crucifixion He was able then to say to Himself, “I can face it with courage. It can be done. My father, Joseph, did it. He faced fear, heartache, failure and opposition in his life. Yet, still he trusted God through it all. He made it. It can be done.” What an inspiration a godly father can be to his children!

Have you seen the little piece called “How Fathers Mature”? It’s actually about the transition children go through over the years as they assess their fathers. Listen.

4 years: My daddy can do anything.
7 years: My dad knows a whole lot.
9 years. Dad doesn’t know quite everything.
12 years: Dad just doesn’t understand.
14 years: Dad is so old-fashioned.
17 years: The man is out of touch and out to lunch.
25 years: Dad’s O.K.
30 years: I wonder what Dad would think about this?
35 years: I must get Dad’s input first.
50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?
60 years: I sure wish I could talk it over with Dad once more.

My father is now with the Lord. His life on this earth was not easy. It was good, very good, but not easy. The last fifteen years of his life were filled to overflowing with pain and heartache but through it all, he trusted God. His objective of pleasing God has stimulated my own response to life. If I have not reached his stature, I will still strive to follow his principles: Being always of good courage, making it my aim, as it was his, to please the Lord. What my father said to me through his life is, “It can be done.” So fathers, let me urge you. Do not fail to deliver to your children the message of courage. Let them know “It can be done.”

A godly father delivers the message to his children, “I believe in you.” It is the message of faith.

Clearly, Joseph was a man of great faith. One example: We are told that when Jesus was twelve years old, Joseph took his Son to Jerusalem to spend time being instructed by the leading rabbis at the temple. Only a man of great faith, desiring for his Child to share that faith, would have undertaken such a spiritual pilgrimage on the limited financial resources Joseph possessed. That reminds me—the greatest inheritance a godly father can leave his children is not money but faith, for make no mistake, our children belong to God, not to us. Therefore, our children need to know that they belong to God, and they will be His forever.

What that means is that if there is a broken relationship in your family by the power of God put it right and put it right right now. Robert Fulghum, in his book entitled From Beginning to End, speaks of the relationship or lack thereof between himself and his now deceased mother and father. This is what he writes:

“Both my parents died without any reconciliation between us. I, their only child, did not live up to their expectations, nor did they to mine. I wish it had not been so, and they must have felt the same way. The ritual of reunion never happened. The distance between us was so great that I didn’t even attend their funerals. Though I have tried to sort through that story to make sense of it, I cannot. Perhaps when I am older and wiser, I will understand. I only mention this because it is important to acknowledge how much I empathize with those for whom reunion remains an unfulfilled hope. Some things, when broken, cannot be fixed. My parents probably wanted to welcome me home as deeply as I wanted to be welcomed. Now, in my later years, I sympathize with their sadness when from time to time a distance develops between me and one of my children.”

Let me tell you something, dear friends, Robert Fulghum may be right about some things in life, but he is not right when he says, “Some things, when broken, cannot be fixed.” The cross of Jesus Christ says No to that. Anything that is broken can be fixed in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. So work at building and repairing the significant relationships in your life especially those between parent and child. Fathers, be sure to deliver to your children the message of faith. That means taking your family to church, of course, because being active in church grounds you in faith. But it also means bringing spiritual language and values into your home. Play spiritual music. Incorporate grace into mealtimes. Institute regular family prayer and study. In the presence of your children and grandchildren, talk about what you believe, why you believe it, and how it applies to your daily life. Let them hear you say, “I believe in you because God believes in you.”

Then a godly father delivers the message to his children, “You are not alone.” It is the message of love.

Joseph was a loving father. We catch only glimpses of that, but glimpses are enough. One example: During that trip to Jerusalem, Jesus became separated from His parents. Mary and Joseph searched diligently, even frantically, for their Son—for three days they searched, the Bible tells us. When at last they found Him, Mary said—and notice the wording, please—she said, “Your father and I have been searching for You with great anxiety.” I submit to you that only a loving father can be an anxious father.

Several years ago a man was flying in a single-engine plane over the great Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. Now that’s a pretty risky thing to do because if something happened to the plane, there is no place to set it down in the Okefenokee. It’s a vast marshland filled with bogs, pools, alligators, and snakes—not a place you want to be. Well, this man’s plane lost power and plunged into the swamp. Rescue teams converged and began to search for the plane and the pilot. They searched for several days. They found some bits and pieces of the plane, but they couldn’t find the pilot. All the while the pilot’s father was waiting at the search command post hoping and praying. Finally the rescuers gave up. They came out of the swamp and said to the father, “We’ve done all we can do. Clearly your son did not survive, and we cannot locate his body.” The search was called off. With that this father, seventy-two years old, white hair, a bit frail physically, actually headed out into the swamp himself. He had no equipment and nothing to protect or aid him in his work. When, later on, he emerged from the swamp, he was carrying the body of his son. A reporter asked, “Mr. Maddox, how did you do that? The rescue specialists couldn’t find him.” Mr. Maddox replied, “You just don’t understand. That was my boy in there, and I wouldn’t come out without him.” Fathers, please hear me, deliver to your children the message of love. Say it so they can hear it and never doubt it. “My child, you are never alone. I am with you and so is God.”

So …

Do you remember the thought I asked you to hold in your heart at the beginning of the sermon? “The love we hold back here is the only pain that follows us to heaven.” Don’t hold back your love from those God has given you to love. Reminds me of Barry and his son, Andrew. Andrew is a boy with Downs Syndrome. He has the body of a fifteen year old but his mind stopped growing when he was four. Barry, the father, couldn’t accept Andrew’s limitations. So he became resentful of his son and depressed in his spirit. He suffered a nervous breakdown. Through subsequent counseling, he was able to see Andrew as he was and not as he wanted him to be. Barry’s return to wellness set off a wonderful response in Andrew. At Andrew’s Sunday school, one of the teachers had made a connection between the rising of the sun and the moon and the constantly renewing love of God. Andrew was captivated by that idea. He asked his father if he would sit with him and watch the moon rise on the night of the next full moon. The whole family then gathered on the front porch facing the eastern horizon. As the moon climbed over the top of the distant hills, Andrew shook with excitement. Then he did something he had never done before. Suddenly he reached out and circled his father with his arms. Tears streamed down his face. He said, “Dad, I’ve never seen the moon rise before. Have you”? Barry was too moved to manage a reply. A few minutes passed in silence. It was as if Andrew’s sense of awe was contagious. It was as if none of them had ever seen the moon rise before. When the moon was fully launched into the sky, Andrew then announced, “God keeps loving all of us. You know that, don’t you, Dad”? It’s amazing. Every month now Andrew and his family wait together on the front porch and watch the full moon rise. Andrew and his father always sit with their arms around each other.

It’s never been easy to be a parent—a father or a mother. We are all amateurs at it. But by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we can do it. We can accept each other in love. We can affirm each other in hope. We can encourage each other in faith. And in special moments, we can put our arms around each other, watch the moon rise, and remember just how much God loves us all. Fathers, on this Father’s Day, please tuck that away in your heart…

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