Some Lessons I 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 my heavenly Father used my earthly father to teach me the things I have needed to know.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 my heavenly Father used my earthly father to teach me the things I have 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 Dad, 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 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!
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 afternoons and evenings, 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 people’s 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 I need to know.
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. Faith in God is a living thing—it is patient before that which is unresolved and it is unafraid of wrestling with that which creates doubt. It is not a life of endless repetition but rather a life of endless expedition. My Dad used to say, ”Never make the mistake of believing that you can sharpen your mind by narrowing it.” He understood that the Bible is not a hitching post—it is a signpost. It points the way to a higher truth and a deeper reality and it calls us to give our lives 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—it was Christmastime. 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 died when he was eight year 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. 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 stage and in the movies, but it never in any way eased his pain. A final irony was that this man who hated Christmas since boyhood, died on Christmas Day, 1946 in Hollywood. The name he made for himself but which never brought him happiness was the name W. C. Fields.
My Dad taught me not to hate God, but to love Him. He 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. If you’re the kind of boy I think you are then that will be enough to set your curious mind and spirit soaring. That will be enough for the Holy Spirit to blow through all of your life, thus drawing you into a living and dynamic love for God.” 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 the beauty and the holiness and 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 a love of self based upon an understanding of how 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 my possessions but by who possesses me. My Dad had little of this world’s goods, but he was one of the richest men I have known.
Jesus, the purest expression of God because He was God, said once that people who believe are the salt of the earth. 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. So the play on words, the 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; you are a child of the King of all kings. God knows your name.” Clearly then, the whole point of life is not to build one’s own kingdom, but 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 glory.
Not all people do that sad to say. 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. 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, one of the most pathetic people 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 to the microphone. Those who didn’t know him expected him to be humble and gracious and thank those who had supported him. But no, that’s not what he did. He stood there and said: “I want to thank Yul Brynner for this award, the greatest human being to have ever performed in the world.” Now isn’t that sick? Isn’t that pitiful? Yet it’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. And you know when people like that come to the close of their lives, always their life 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 did but because of whose I was. 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 in Proverbs 2: “For the Lord gives wisdom, from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” We can love ourselves because He loves us.
Then I have 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 He 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 the door with the globe in his hands, the little boy woke up and asked: “Daddy, what are you going to do with my world?” Needless to say, the son’s question stunned the father, as it would any thoughtful father, and it changed the topic of conversation in the living room. It’s a question any child has a right to ask: “Daddy, what are you going to do with my world?”
My Dad taught me that we are called by God to channel our energies toward responding to the world with compassion. Hearty compassion for the world is the way of Jesus. It is the way of discipleship. Take this to your heart today: “The world would be better off if people tried to become better. And people would become better if they stopped trying to be better off. For when everybody tries to be better off, nobody is better off. But when everybody tries to become better, then everybody is better off.” My Daddy, as he sought to live for Christ in this world, tried to be better, not just better off.
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 right fielder 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. The world about us is in great need. The question before us regarding compassion is single: 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. Reminds me of how after the outbreak of World War One, 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 it hasn’t been tried.” My Dad always said: “Christianity 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 and the greatest philosophers and 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 stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of His saints.”
Well, my time is up. I’ll leave it there..
Except that I remember hearing about a Sunday School teacher who was telling her class about God. She was describing Him as kindly, loving, strong, thoughtful; One who could conquer the world, who could meet all obstacles with courage, who was not afraid of the dark, and who supplied them with everything they needed. Then she said to the children: “Does that description of God 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…