Saturday, June 17, 2017

Fatherhood the Father's Way - a sermon from Psalm 127

Psalm 127
Fatherhood the Father’s Way

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,  the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

This is NOT intended to create undue guilt or hurt feelings, but our country is in the throes of a CRISIS… a FATHERHOOD crisis.  Everyday, families are breaking up… everyday, children are growing up without a dad.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 — a total of about 17.2 million — are being raised without a father and almost half of them live below the poverty line.

According to a recent article in the Washington Times, among blacks, that number rises to 54 percent. More than half of black children grow up without a dad in this country.

Is it any wonder, then, that our society is racked with so much strife, poverty, crime, sexual immorality, and emotional disfunction?  Is it any wonder that we are suffering an unparalleled opioid epidemic?

Parenting is hard… and those single moms who are struggling to do it by themselves - deserve our utmost respect and admiration.  I don’t know how they do it.  I cannot imagine the incredible load of guilt, burden, and fatigue they must carry.  The fear, the worry - it has got to be LOVE that drives them to get out of bed each day.

Abandoned by my father at age 9, there’s a special place in my heart for the single mom.  My little brother never met my dad.  Dad left before he was born.  And while I never once recall hearing my father tell me he loved me or that he was proud of me or that I was anything to him other than a burden - at least I HAD a dad for 9 years.  

My little brother didn’t.  And boy did it make a difference.

All of us struggled mightily - but HE has struggled the most.  To grow up feeling like your dad left because he didn’t want to be with you - to think that OTHER things mattered more to him than YOU - that’s a cross NO KID should have to bear.  But according to stats - fatherlessness has risen to critical levels in our society - and to be perfectly frank, I do not see any way our nation can survive this disintegration of the nuclear family.

As a pastor, when I pick up the paper and read about some nut-job on a killing spree, or college kids destroying property or committing assault in the name of free speech, I ask, “Where’s dad?”  

When I see the rates of teen pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted disease in this country - I ask, “Where’s dad?”  

When I see men wanting to be women, teenage boys growing up gender-retarded - my first question is, “Where’s dad??”

Drug abuse… violence… crime… promiscuity - RESEARCHERS confirm - all linked to the absence of fathers.

Where are YOU - dad???  What kind of job are YOU doing?  

It ought to be different, you know, for those who claim to know the Lord.  The ONE PLACE that ought to get it right is that place that shapes its views of fatherhood according to THUS SAITH THE LORD.  And WHILE we will NEVER be perfect, in fact, many of the father’s IN the Bible were miserable failures - those who are committed to raising their families GOD’S WAY will not only be aided and rewarded by God, they give hope to a nation grasping for something / ANYTHING stable they can hold.

“What does a godly father LOOK like?”  That was MY question almost 29 years ago when we found out our lives would be changing with the birth of our first-born.  What are the things I should do to raise my kids in a way that honors the Lord??  I had no example.  I had no mentor to encourage me or direct me.

Thankfully, I had God’s word and passages like Psalm 127 to serve as my guide.  And in this Psalm, I find 3 important directives.  If you want to go about fatherhood the Father’s way, notice:

  1. First, the DUTIES of a godly father.  The psalmist describes three different roles of the godly father in this psalm:

First, the godly father is pictured as “a provider” when he speaks of “building a house.”

The thing about building is it requires an investment… planning… a degree of knowledge and skill.  I mean, you can’t just get a wild hair one day to build a house without knowing what you are doing or you will have - at best - a lot of problems you have to overcome - and AT WORST - a costly failure on your hands.

Fathers are to be providers.  It’s how God made us.  

Now I realize there are families who have worked out OTHER arrangements.  Please don’t take me as saying that it is unbiblical for a father to be a stay-at-home dad.  I’ll leave that to God.  But I WILL say, God made men to be the head.  And part of being the head of the family is to shoulder the responsibility of providing for your family.

But understand, your role as provider involves MUCH MORE than bringing home a paycheck.  You are to provide emotionally and spiritually too.  You, as the head of the home, are the spiritual pacesetter of the family.  YOU are the one who will answer to God for the direction, the values and commitments taught and held by your family.  

As a general rule - as the father goes, so goes the family.  Remember that.  

But you are MORE than a provider, you are a PROTECTOR in the word “watchman.”  The watchman had the important task of being aware of the dangers that threaten a city.  They were vigilant - any watchman who did not sound the alarm when enemies encroached was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.  People put their trust in the watchman.  They can rest at night because they know someone they trust is protecting them.

That’s one of the reasons I, for the life of me, cannot understand why liberals hate our police and military the way they do.  I am GLAD we have people we can trust who are charged with the responsibility of protecting us.  I cannot image life WITHOUT them.  

Well, according to researchers - there are millions of families that have been stripped of their ‘protector.’  God placed the man in the home to watch over his family - to be aware of the enemy's presence and schemes.  And to be that first line of defense when danger invades.

And THIRD, dads have the duty of PREPARER - in the words - “as arrows in the hand of a warrior.”  

Arrows aren’t carried as fashion accessories.  They are for shooting - - - for warring with the enemy.  It is YOUR job, dad, to PREPARE your young-person for battle in a world that will be unclear and often, hostile.  You are to launch your children at the enemy.  You are to give them the necessary tools that will help them function in the world.  You should teach them MANY things -- from how to treat members of the opposite sex, to how to budget and handle money, -- from the importance of following Jesus, to the value of excellence in the workplace

… and EVERYTHING in between.  Prepare them.  

When I look at so many young people today, I see kids who aren’t prepared.  Dad didn’t give them the tools they needed to be successful.  Young men… young women who are wounded because DAD didn’t prepare them.

God put you here to prepare  - protect - and provide  for the next generation.  THAT is your God-given Duty.

But not only does this text show us the Duties of a Godly father,

  1. We ALSO see the DEPENDENCE of a Godly Father.  After all, that is the whole point of the text, isn’t it?  We need the Lord DESPERATELY if we are to do our job with excellence.

You can’t be the protectors, providers, and preparers God would have you to be - WITHOUT Him!

If you want to do this job well… if you FEEL the weight of responsibility - to raise up a generation that not only survives, but THRIVES - you can’t do it without a growing relationship with God.  

You might be a good man.  You might be a VERY good man.  But Your focus in life must ALWAYS be to become a BETTER man… a godly man, a SPIRITUALLY-BALANCED man.  One his kids can look up to.  One like his sons want to become - possessing the qualities his daughters look for in a mate.

Society would have you focus on building your career - on being the very best (whatever-it-is-that-you-do) person out there.  But GOD would have you be a better man.  It isn’t stuff that gives you significance.  It isn’t all the awards and respect you receive because of how great an employee you are - or how much money you have in the bank.  It is God in you and through you that makes you a REAL man.

How is YOUR walk with the Lord?  There are two things here I want to emphasize:

Be engaged - an active participant - in your spiritual development.  Through faithfulness to church, through bible study and prayer, through fellowship with other Christians and being involved when these opportunities come your way - be actively engaged in your spiritual development.  

Christ likeness doesn't happen by chance or coincidence.  Hook your wagon to a more seasoned Christian - get you a mentor, who not only models the life, but will also have the courage to stand up to you when you are wrong.

You ALSO need to be engaged verbally - TEACH your wife, TEACH your children - SHARE the things you are learning - talk about the Lord.  Deuteronomy 6 commands us to make the LORD the topic of conversation when we get up, when we go to bed, when we leave for work, or when we come home.  It should be the NORM for you to actively engage your children spiritually.  It’s your job.

Oh, but there’s one more truth for us to discover in this text.  Not ONLY are we reminded of the DUTIES and the DEPENDENCE of Godly fathers…

3. We also see their DELIGHT.  The DELIGHT of the godly father, when it says, “Blessed is the man" ...and... "He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

That word “blessed” has more than one meaning.  It can mean “happy” or “content.”  As if to say, “Happy is the man” who raises his kids God’s way…
  • He will be proud of what they become.  
  • He will see his efforts pay off.

That makes sense, doesn’t it?  Because life is short in the whole scheme of things, we often don’t get to see the results of all our sacrifice as parents.  It’s HARD WORK to be a good parent.  And often, you don’t really know if you’ve done it right until YEARS LATER when they are grown and gone…  when it's too late for change.  Time  will prove if we have done it right.  We may yet see the people they become - the values they hold - the direction they lead their families.

If your kids are small - trust me - there isn’t much more gratifying than to see your grown children serving the Lord, loving Him, living faithful, honorable lives.

In that sense, I am very blessed.

But I think this statement means so much more than being happy or content as a parent. The context seems to suggest that children who are raised by Godly fathers leave a legacy -  shaping one generation after another - year after year, decade after decade.  To put it simply - What you do matters.  You are shaping your family tree.  You are making a LASTING impact on the generations to come.

Eternal destinies are being changed.  There will be souls in heaven that WOULD NOT BE THERE had it not been for your daily investment in the lives of your family.

Blessed… indeed… is the man who does fatherhood the Father's way!

I know I’m showing my age, but I used to listen to Paul Harvey on the radio EVERY day.  I loved his program.  He would give bits of news, solid advice, and thought-provoking stories.  One Father’s Day he shared THIS little gem:

What are Fathers Made Of?

A father is a thing that is forced to endure childbirth without an anesthetic.

A father is a thing that growls when it feels good--and laughs very loud when it's scared half to death.

A father never feels entirely worthy of the worship in a child's eyes. He's never quite the hero his daughter thinks, never quite the man his son believes him to be--and this worries him, sometimes. So he works too hard to try and smooth the rough places in the road for those of his own who will follow him.

A father is a thing that gets very angry when school grades aren't as good as he thinks they should be. He scolds his son though he knows it's REALLY the teacher's fault.

Fathers are what give daughters away to other men who aren't nearly good enough so they can have grandchildren who are smarter than anybody's.

Fathers make bets with insurance companies about who'll live the longest. Though they know the odds, they keep right on betting. And one day -- they lose.

I don't know where fathers go when they die. But I've an idea that after a good rest, wherever it is, he won't be happy unless there's work to do. He won't just sit on a cloud and wait for the girl he's loved and the children she bore. He'll be busy there, too, repairing the stairs, oiling the gates, improving the streets, smoothing the way.

Fathers… are you doing fatherhood God’s Way?

If you are honest with yourself, and that honesty causes you to feel conviction - don’t leave here today without spending time before our HEAVENLY FATHER - Who will not only forgive you, but will empower you to be the dad you ought to be.

You are never going to be perfect - but that fact should never be an excuse for failing to change.

If God is speaking to YOUR heart, why not come pray about it??  Let’s stand...

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Psalm 30:5 – The Unexpected Guest

For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
A scream… a thud… a rumble-SMASH – BANG! BANG! BANG!  

These were the sounds that came from overhead that jolted me from sleep.  Heart in my throat, I sat STRAIGHT and SILENT.  

The racket had come from my neighbor’s apartment.  
  • Was it a burglar?  
  • Had one of the kids fallen down the stairs?
There really wasn’t any telling with Parnell, a country-boy from Jessup, Georgia.  Our families shared a house the Bible College had converted into apartments for married students.
Call me a terrible neighbor, but when I didn’t hear anything else, I laid back down.  Sleep was at a premium in those days.  I just figured someone fell or knocked one of his many deer-heads off the wall.
The next day I saw Parnell, briefcase in hand - a smile on his face.  I asked him what happened.  Turned out, he had an unexpected guest… a rat… not one of those cute-little-mice we CALL ‘rats.’  But a huge rat – about the size of a squirrel.  He stunned it with a book and beat it to death with his wife’s shoe.  

Had there been cell phones in those days, I have no doubt Parnell would have posted a selfie with his “trophy” on Facebook.

Unexpected guests.  We’ve all had them.  Some we are thrilled to see – like family or friends returning from a lengthy separation.  The joy of reunion – of catching up – of dusting off long forgotten memories that have grown into colorful stories.  We LOVE those visits.
But not all ‘unexpected guests’ are so pleasant,
  • as with Parnell and his rat…
  • or those Saturday drop-bys from people peddling their watch-tower pamphlets…
  • or as with some devastating news – a divorce, disease, death… those crushing moments when circumstances remind you ⇒ we aren’t home yet.
My “unexpected guest” came December 16th at 12:40 AM.  It was one of those rare times when I was glad I was a light sleeper.  I guess the Lord nudged me.  I opened my eyes and noticed a strange light filtering through the blinds and curtains.
Our property joins a sheep farm… so a light coming from there at that time of night was unusual.  I got up to investigate.  As soon as I opened the curtains I knew we were in trouble –

fire was racing up the back of our house.
In a panic, I yelled to Debbie to call the fire department as I raced downstairs to wake my daughter.  We opened the garage and moved the car out to the street and waited for those folks you are GLAD are there to serve - but you never want to have to call.
It wasn’t a total loss.  But when morning came, it wasn’t JOY we were feeling.  

We took a couple of photos for our family and friends who were worried about us.
I’ve never gone through anything like that.  You just don’t know how to PREPARE for some things.  

I know some of you have been through FAR worse.  I have lived a fairly uneventful life – few REAL problems.  But THAT night, our unexpected guest left us homeless just days before Christmas.
I can honestly say, God moved in that situation and gave us such an amazing peace.  He shepherded us through the entire process, just as His Word TELLS US He will.
His people from all over the state of Missouri showed us God’s Amazing Grace.  From the calls and cards, to the gifts and offers for help.  God comforted us through you.  And after 5 months of being displaced, I’m glad to say - two weeks ago we moved back into our home!
I am not so naïve as to suggest that EVERY tragedy we face will have a storybook ending.  But I WILL DEFINITELY say – regardless the nature of YOUR ‘unexpected guest,’ God strengthens and blesses those who place their faith in Him!
I guess that’s why I love this Psalm so much.  Through his own life-experiences, David could say, “For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
What can you and I take away from that sentence of 24 words that will provide comfort and wisdom in our seasons of darkness? 3 things:
1.  FIRST, this verse offers us PERSPECTIVE.  Fresh eyes - a different way of looking at things.
Did you notice the many contrasts in this text?
  • Anger versus favor
  • weeping versus joy
  • night versus morning.  
Those are the obvious contrasts.  But the more subtle is the fact that David places emphasis on the temporary nature of the ONE and the permanent nature of the OTHER.
  • God’s anger is temporary for the child of God – but His FAVOR is lasting.  
  • Weeping for the Christian is short-lived – but our Joy lasts forever.  
  • Night comes to all of us – but thankfully it doesn’t stay, it gives way to dawn.
David is providing an interesting picture with his choice of words.
The picture is that of an unexpected guest coming for a visit.  The guest is dark, troubling, foreboding.  But after a period of time in its company, it removes its veil, it pulls back its hood only to reveal something ELSE altogether.
JOY!  Unmitigated Joy.  Night gave way to dawn and the sorrow he knew unmasked itself to reveal JOY.
When you are going through hardship, you have a limited perspective.  You may focus on how your loss impacts YOU.  You may only see the immediate – the darkness.  

But God has a different perspective.  He has the LONG VIEW of our lives.
  • Our focus is on NOW.  
    • His focus is on LATER.  
  • Our focus is on WHAT WE ARE – WHAT WE HAVE – HOW WE FEEL.  
    • He’s watching for WHAT WE WILL BECOME.  

He allows those “unexpected guests” to shape us into different ⇒ BETTER people.
I have told a few of my friends, how, two days before the fire, I was pouring my heart out to God about the difficulty I was having connecting to my community.  

You know, as a home missionary, that’s kind of important!  

Where we live, people don’t appreciate strangers showing up on their doorstep talking about Jesus and inviting them to Church.  I understand.  That isn’t unusual.
I've had to learn the hard way:  We don’t DESERVE an audience with people – we EARN it through relationship.  

But I haven’t been able to break through and build relationships with many outside our church family.  Since I am – for all intents and purposes – an outsider, people have kept me at arm’s length when it comes to building the necessary relationships to impact them with the Gospel.
So I prayed ⇒ “LORD… whatever it takes to help me connect with people, please do it.”  Two days later, my house was destroyed and I was living in a Super-8 with only the few clothes I could cram in a WalMart bag.
Now, before you think – “I’m never gonna ask THAT GUY to pray for me – EVER!”  I want you to know that the day after the fire I met more people from my neighborhood, I felt more concern and compassion from complete strangers than I ever did BEFORE that loss.  I had people I had never met come up to me with tears in their eyes… hugs… and cards.  

And besides the relationship building I’ve enjoyed with people in my community, God is making me a MUCH MORE compassionate person than I ever was before – more thoughtful of others needs and problems.  I never KNEW what people went through in a fire – till now.
So if God can get glory through my loss, then praise God!

There is a certain PERSPECTIVE that comes to us through our times of suffering that we can’t see any other way.  He has a way of showing us what’s important. I made it out with my family… no one was hurt - not even my dumb dog that burned my house down was injured. 😄
What is God trying to show YOU through YOUR season of ‘night?’  What is He wanting to accomplish IN you and THROUGH you as you grope through this darkness?

Remember the PERSPECTIVE of this verse.
2.  But after PERSPECTIVE, we find the PROMISE of this verse.  I love the promises of God.  When God says something – I know I can count on it.  And in THIS passage, the are two IMPLIED promises:
First, the thing that is troubling you is temporary.  God wants us to know that it WILL come to an end.  

In the psalm, David uses the analogy of night giving way to dawn for a reason.  No matter how DARK YOUR night may be – regardless how painful and difficult the circumstances of your life ARE at that moment – as sure as the night gives way to morning-light, your troubles WILL NOT LAST FOREVER.
That’s important…  WHY???

  • If you allow your life to be ruled by the immediate – you will be a joyless VICTIM the rest of your days.  

  • If you jump to harsh conclusions about yourself, the church, or the Lord during the difficult moments – you are sabotaging any chance you have at future joy.

  • Don’t let your emotions run to extremes when what you are experiencing is temporary.
We offer counsel to young people – GOOD counsel – Biblical – when we tell them to stay pure until marriage and not to do ANYTHING that would jeopardize God’s will – His BEST for their lives.  

We tell them that self-control – that the temporary postponement of natural desire – is a GOOD thing!  And we would be 100% correct.  “Don’t let 5 minutes of pleasure define the next 50 years of your life.”
That’s good advice.
The same is true with anger – if you yield to those flashes of temper, no matter HOW JUSTIFIED you think you ARE - you will destroy the people you care about – ruin your influence for Jesus – and create tension between yourself and others that will go with you to your grave.
So we say - “Don’t let temporary passion overthrow good judgment.” ……..... That’s smart!
But WHY IS IT that we can’t heed our own counsel when it comes to the way we process life’s problems?  We too often allow temporary circumstances to override EVEN the voice of God.

I MUST remind myself to hold on to the eternal truths of God’s Word EVEN WHEN everything in me wants to give up.  Because this thing WILL pass and what I have done in response to it says EVERYTHING about where I put my trust.
The SECOND part of the promise is that God will be with you every minute of your darkness.  You are NOT alone. God will not abandon you when your ‘unexpected guest’ comes.
If God’s Word is true – and we believe it is – then He will not, He CANNOT abandon you during your difficult moments.  He loves you more than you will EVER comprehend.  If you will push back those insults and insinuations planted in your heart by Satan – if you will hang your faith on the nail of God’s faithfulness, you will not only make it through this thing – you will be BETTER than you were BEFORE it.
3.  Which brings us to our final thought… not only do we see PERSPECTIVE and PROMISE, there are also a few PRINCIPLES in this passage of scripture we dare not miss:
Like, trouble comes to all of us sooner or later.  
  • It’s part of living in a fallen world.  
  • You’re not the exception…
  • God has not failed you and IS NOT picking on you.  
  • Your faith ISN’T flawed.  You just need to grow.  
  • There is nothing necessarily wrong with you that is causing this.  It’s part of life.
Second, you have a choice in how you will respond to your trials.  Stop allowing Satan to make this about you… stop allowing him to paint your whole life as terrible when in reality SO MUCH of your life is WONDERFUL.  You have a choice – will you obsess on the pain - or - choose joy?  
And third, Your faith must be in your Redeemer, NOT a Remedy.  If you are only looking for a remedy for your pain,
  • you are going to miss out on the lessons you learn from pain
  • you will miss out on times of intimacy with God and the family of God
  • and you will eventually find yourself in a place from which you CANNOT recover.  

Why?  Because there are some pains, some problems, that cannot be fixed or understood until we get to heaven.  But IF your faith is in your Redeemer, you can have joy no matter the hardship.  

Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, the first man to win both – an academy award AND a Nobel prize, said:
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one: the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature ---> instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
There is a Greek word for what he said ⇒ “BOOM!”
All of us are prone to feel sorry for ourselves from time to time.  Hey… it happens.  But if the general pattern of your life is to obsess over one perceived slight after another, painting yourself as a helpless victim of some maniacal scheme – at the risk of sounding harsh, allow me to speak plainly - you might have a spiritual problem.

The NT counterpart to our verse – is Romans 8:28.  You know it.  You’ve heard it again and again.  You probably have it etched in artwork around your home - or better yet, on your heart.  But you’ve never looked at it through the lens of personal tragedy:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

It doesn’t say, “All things are good.”  No.  NOT EVERYTHING that happens to you is GOOD – but God will work IN SPITE OF THE BAD to produce something that is for your good and for His glory.  Trust it.  Believe it.

As a third-century man was anticipating death, he penned these last words to his friend:

"It's a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world.

These people are the Christians--and I am one of them."

  • Will you be ready when YOUR unexpected guest calls?  
  • Will you sit patiently in its company until it removes its dark veil and proves to you it wasn’t something to dread after​ all.  
  • Will you trust in the faithfulness of God till morning breaks?

You don’t get to choose when that guest comes – but you CAN choose HOW you will respond to it.

Let’s pray…