Lessons Learned From My Two Fathers
Today I’d like to share with you some lessons I have learned from my two fathers. I refer, of course, to my earthly father and to my Heavenly Father. You see, so many times in my life, my Heavenly Father used my earthly father to teach me the things I needed to know.
I grew up especially proud of the witness of my parents. Every Sunday my dad preached, and every Sunday my mom sang in the choir. That meant that my brothers and I were left to be seated on one of the front pews without benefit of parental supervision. That landed us in trouble on more than one occasion. Until the Sunday—and I remember it as if it were yesterday—until the Sunday when my father, right in the middle of his sermon stopped, pointed his finger at us, and right there in front of God and everybody else corrected us and then immediately resumed his sermon as if nothing had happened. My little brother jumped as if he had been stuck, and I shriveled up into a little ball of shame and humiliation. I can tell you that, from that point on, we were most attentive! And yet through it all, I loved what I heard, and I loved what I saw. In my childhood years, my dad would preach in our church on Sunday mornings, and then on Sunday afternoon and evening, he would go out to preach in little rural churches where they had no pastor. Sometimes he would preach at two or three different churches Sunday afternoon and evening. Since my mother needed to be at home caring for my younger brothers, I would ride with my dad to keep him company. It was then and there, more than anywhere else, that I began to see so clearly the impact that the preaching of God’s Word can have on peoples’ lives. It was then and there, more than anywhere else, that my earthly father began to give me glimpses of my Heavenly Father. It was then and there, more than anywhere else, that I came to love preaching, and I came to love preachers, especially my dad. He was my ideal. Perhaps that is why my Heavenly Father chose so often to use my earthly father to teach me the things that I need to know in life.
For example, I learned from my two fathers the necessity for loving God.
My dad taught me that true love for God is not static devotion but dynamic piety. It is not just a matter of the mind but also a matter of the heart. It is not a life of endless repetition but rather a life of endless expedition—endless adventure. My dad used to say, “Never make the mistake of believing that you can sharpen your mind by narrowing it.” He was always telling me to grow in my knowledge and my love for Jesus Christ. He understood that the Bible is not a hitching post. It is a sign post. It points the way to a higher truth and a deeper reality, and it calls us to give our lives completely to the pursuit of both. I saw in my dad’s life proof of what he said. His love for God was a powerful, dynamic, unending adventure.
Not all children have been so fortunate as I. I think here of young Billy Dukenfield. He was born into the hard scrabble environment of central Philadelphia in the 1880’s. His father was a saloon keeper, a heavy drinker with a violent temper. His mother was a bitter woman with a scathing tongue. Billy’s relationship with his father was marked by frequent beatings. There was one consolation in Billy’s life as a child—it was Christmas time. Each year at Christmas in his family, the old wounds and struggles were temporarily shelved, and it seemed that there was love in his home if only for a little while. However, Billy’s love of Christmas was destroyed when he was eight years old. That was the year that he carefully saved up some money by doing odd jobs in order to buy his mother a nice Christmas present. Well just before Christmas, Billy’s father found the money the boy had been saving, took it, and got drunk. Later Billy said, “Since then I have remembered nobody on Christmas, and I want nobody to remember me.” Embittered and lonely, Billy ultimately left home and supported himself on the streets by learning how to juggle and tell jokes. He had no use for God and lived his life as an agnostic. He eventually graduated to the vaudeville stage where he substituted laughter and applause for love. He took to drinking heavily eventually acquiring a quart-a-day whiskey habit. He made a name for himself on the stage and in the movies. But it never, in any way, eased his pain. The final irony was that this man who hated Christmas since boyhood actually died on Christmas Day 1946 in Hollywood. The name he made for himself, but which never brought him any happiness at all, was the name W. C. Fields. What a shame that young Billy Dukenfield’s dad turned him away from the love of God.
Well, my dad taught me not to hate God but to love God. My dad used to say to me, “Son, I make you a promise. If you come to me for guidance, I may not always be able to give you the right answers, but I will always give you the right questions. And if you’re the kind of boy I think you are then that will be enough to set your mind and your spirit to soaring and that will be enough for the Holy Spirit to blow through all of your life thus drawing you into a living, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ.” Of course, what my earthly father was saying to me was what my Heavenly Father had already said in Proverbs 2, “If you seek the knowledge of God like silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will find beauty and the holiness of the love of God in your life.”
Another lesson I learned from my two fathers is the necessity for loving myself.
My dad taught me that I can love myself for one simple reason—it’s that God loves me. In other words, I should love myself not as an act of conceit but as an act of faith. I can love myself not because of what I am but because of whose I am — not because of anything I can or might achieve but because I am a child of God. My sense of worth and value in life is determined not by what I possess but by who possesses me. My dad had little of this world’s goods, and yet, he was one of the richest men I have ever known.
Jesus, the purest expression of God because He is God, once said that people who believe are the “salt of the earth.” Well now that was a very interesting thing for him to say. You see in the language that he spoke, the word for “salt” is “mellock.” The word for “king” is “mellack,” and the word for “ascending the throne” is “mollock.” Now Jesus did not write His words. He spoke them, and He was a master at the use of language. And so this play on words, words with double meanings because they sounded the same, was a basic part of His communication. What Jesus meant when He said, “You are the salt of the earth,” is that “you are not only that which brings flavor and preserving power to life, but you are also royalty, and you are a child of the King of Kings and the throne of God is waiting for you. God knows your name.” Clearly then, the whole point of life is not to build one’s own kingdom, but rather to help God build His kingdom—not to put oneself at the center, but to put the Lord at the center—not to use one’s gifts for one’s gratification but to use them for God’s great glory.
Not all people do that, sad to say. Some people seem to live only for themselves. If I were to mention the name of Yul Brynner to you, you would see in your mind’s eye this striking, dashing, commanding actor playing the lead role in “The King and I” upon the stage and in film. You would remember him as a most impressive man. Actually, such was not the case at all. Yul Brynner was a hollow and empty person, as pathetic as you could ever imagine. He was so wrapped up in himself that he really didn’t have time for anything or anyone else. For instance, when he was awarded the Tony Award for his theatrical achievements, he stepped forward to receive the award. Those who did not know him expected him to be humble and gracious and to thank those who had supported him. But no, that’s not what he did at all. He stood there and he said, “I want to thank Yul Brynner for this award, the greatest human being to have ever performed on the world’s stage.” Now isn’t that sick? Isn’t that pitiful? And yet that’s the attitude we see in some people today. It’s like they have nothing more to live for than just the enhancement of their own little egos. You know when people like that come to the close of their lives, always their life then is a pitiful sight to behold. So it was when Yul Brynner’s life came to an end. It was pitiful to behold.
My dad taught me to love myself, not because of what I do but because of whose I am. He used to say to me, “The fellow who gets on a high horse is riding for a fall” … and, “The person who is all wrapped up in himself is overdressed” … and, “People whose main concern is their own happiness, seldom find it.” Of course, what my earthly father was saying to me was what my Heavenly Father had already said to me in Proverbs 2, “For the Lord gives wisdom and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Yes you see, we can love ourselves because the Lord loves us.
Then I learned from my two fathers the necessity for loving the world.
My dad taught me that because Christ died for the world, I must love the world for which Christ died. I heard about a family who gave their small son a world globe for Christmas. One night, after the boy had gone to bed, the mother and father found themselves in an argument concerning geography. The man went up to the son’s darkened bedroom to get the world globe. As he was quietly backing out of the door with the globe in his hand, the little boy woke up and asked, “Dad, what are you going to do with my world?” Good question. It’s a question that any child has the right to ask. “Dad, what are you going to do with my world”?
Back in 1972, a terrible earthquake struck near Managua, Nicaragua. Immediately following the disaster, two dramatically different responses were made. One was made by an incredibly wealthy man, Howard Hughes, who left his hotel in Managua, picked his way through the rubble to his private plane, and flew out to a luxury hotel suite in Europe. Another man, Roberto Clemente, beloved superstar of the Pittsburgh Pirates, chartered some cargo planes and began flying into the devastated area with medicine and food. Clemente kept flying those planes into the disaster area until, at last, he died when one of the planes crashed at sea. Well, the world about us is in terrible need. The question before us is simple: Are we flying out, are we flying in, or are we just flying by?
I know there are those who say that the world is in such a mess that Christianity cannot solve the problems. Rather reminds me of how, after the outbreak of World War I, someone asked G. K. Chesterton, “Doesn’t this prove that Christianity hasn’t worked?” To which Chesterton replied, “It doesn’t prove that Christianity hasn’t worked; it just proves that Christianity hasn’t been tried.” Well, my dad always said, “Jesus Christ is the only solution to the problems of this world.” He said, “Son, if you commit yourself to building a better world, then you will stand with the greatest saints, the greatest philosophers, the greatest poets, and the greatest scientists. More to the point, you will stand with Jesus Christ.” Of course, what my earthly father was saying to me was what my Heavenly Father had already said in Proverbs 2, “The Lord holds victory in store for the upright. He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones.” In Jesus Christ, we are called to give ourselves in compassionate love for the world.
Well, my time is up so I’ll leave it there …
Except that I remember hearing about a Sunday school teacher who was telling her class about God. Without referring to God by name she said, “I want to tell you about someone who is kindly, loving, strong, thoughtful—someone who can could conquer the world — someone who can meet all obstacles with courage—someone who is not afraid of the dark—someone who supplies us with everything we need.” Then she said to the children, “Does that description make you think of anybody you know?” One little boy blurted out in response, “Teacher, that’s my dad!”
I could say the same thing …