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A Mother’s Day message for fathers

By Jeff Brawner

There is a fundamental difference in some churches between the sermons you’ll typically hear on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Moms are usually showered with positive, uplifting praise focused on their value and virtue. For dads, the experience too often amounts to a detailed inventory of their shortcomings, leaving men feeling more like a target than a treasure.

I think it’s time we balance the scale. I want you to recognize three important fatherhood facts that will bless and build your family.

1. Every dad is significant.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

God endorses both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in this passage, since the heart of these special occasions is the biblical commandment and life-giving principle of honoring.

Has that commandment been especially hard for you to obey? It may help you to better understand the meaning of the word “honor.” In Hebrew, it suggests recognizing the value or worth of a person. When we honor someone, we deeply treasure them — not necessarily because we feel something about them, but because we recognize something about them. When God commands us to honor our father and mother, He does not expect us to conjure up an emotion that may not exist; He is telling us to adopt an attitude and to act accordingly.

During his marriage seminars, Gary Smalley often brings out an old, beat-up, stringless violin. He polls the audience to see how much they think it’s worth. Most people don’t think it’s worth more than a couple of dollars at a yard sale. That’s when Gary gives them a few bits of additional information. For example, he mentions that there are only about 600 violins in the world like this one. Then he reads the name inscribed on the instrument: Stradivarius. Suddenly, the audience reacts with oohs and ahhs. What made the difference? The recognition of value.

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In order to genuinely honor our fathers on Father’s Day, we need to genuinely recognize the significance and value God designed into every dad.

Dads are essential equippers. No one can argue that a father is not indispensable when it comes to conceiving a child. But psychologists and behaviorists have only recently recognized the vital role dads play in their children’s development. The fact is, moms and dads parent differently. No surprise there. What we’re learning is that those differences in style and approach give kids a more complete, balanced upbringing than they could receive from either parent alone. Check out some of these findings:

Moms tend to be more verbal with their little ones while dads are more likely to be physical, rolling around on the floor giving them horsey rides and playing tickle games.

During play, mothers tend to stick with more calm and familiar routines. “Dad games” are generally more surprising and unpredictable. In fact, studies have shown that babies only 2 months old know the difference between their mother’s approach and father’s approach, and react differently. When Dad comes near, a baby will begin to breathe more rapidly and open his eyes wide anticipating excitement. The same baby will welcome Mom by relaxing his shoulders and lowering his eyelids expecting a more soothing interaction.

Fathers and mothers also differ in the amount of risk-taking they encourage. See for yourself the next time you visit a public swimming pool. The moms are more likely to be holding their toddlers, assuring them that everything is okay. Dad will be the one with his arms outstretched saying, “Go ahead and jump. I’ll catch you!”

Neither style is wrong. In fact, both are essential if we are to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids.

This applies to both sons and daughters. The notion that men raise boys and women raise girls is a myth, and a dangerous one at that in these days when so many people are intent on redefining the family. Consider the example of a little good-natured roughhousing with Dad. Psychologists have noted that this kind of play teaches boys to regulate and control their aggressiveness. When things start getting out of control, a father might say, “Calm down or we’ll stop playing.” Men play a vital role in establishing and enforcing boundaries for their boys. Girls benefit from this sort of physical interaction every bit as much, although in different ways. Primarily, it helps them build more self-confidence and higher self-esteem.

In another area of parenting, moms are often the tenderness teachers while dads are often the tenacity teachers. In his article “Complementary Parenting Styles” Dr. Wade Horn writes, “Fathers tend to be more results-oriented and less sensitive to the pleadings of children, whereas moms are more focused on the emotional experience of their children. As a result, dads tend to be more insistent than moms that their children work through a problem, even if doing so causes some emotional upset. This helps children learn how to cope with frustration and to be good problem-solvers. Dads tend to emphasize the importance of learning life’s hard lessons, believing those lessons will help their children be successful when they become adults. Moms tend to be more concerned about protecting their children and keeping them close to the family.”

Listen to how the apostle Paul, speaking as a spiritual father, taught tenacity to the Thessalonian believers: “We talked to you as a father to his own children — don’t you remember? — pleading with you, encouraging you and even demanding that your daily lives should not embarrass God, but bring joy to him who invited you into his kingdom to share his glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11,12).

Here’s the bottom line: Fathers, don’t underestimate your significance to your family. You are necessary and needed. You are wired differently than your wife, but only to complete her, not compete with her. The God-given task of parenthood requires your combined efforts and inclinations. Despite what the sitcom stereotypes may lead us to believe, fathers play a vital role in our development.

2. Every dad has shortcomings.

Honoring your father does not require that you ignore his weaknesses and forget about his failures; it means that we deal with them both honestly and biblically. Let’s talk about two ways to do that.

Dads must be learning leaders.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul writes, “Follow my example [i.e., lead] as I follow the example of Christ.”

Every great leader is a learner. That’s both an admission and an ambition! We need to recognize with humility that while we carry the mantle of leadership, we are not all-seeing, all-knowing dictators who have outgrown human error.

I can remember more than one family road trip when the kids began asking the inevitable questions: “Are we there yet?” and “How long till we stop?” What they didn’t know was that even though I was leading (I was the one with my hands on the wheel and the map in my lap), I was also learning. After all, this destination was a first for me, too.

The admission that we are learning as we are leading doesn’t undermine our position of authority. If anything, it enhances it — especially if our family sees that we’re really committed to following Christ’s lead in our life. While we can never “learn” our way beyond all of our shortcomings, we can use them to draw us into a greater dependence on the Lord’s wisdom and strength.

Families must be forgiving followers.

For some family members, Father’s Day is difficult because it summons up memories of a father who is absent, abusive ... anything but caring and connected. Does God really expect you to honor your father after what he did to you ... or didn’t do for you?

The answer is yes — and both the quality and quantity of your life depends on it. Remember, the Fifth Commandment is the only one that comes with a motivational promise — “… so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

Here’s a principle that many people miss: God commands us to honor our fathers not only because of what it does for them, but what it does for us.

Gary Smalley wrote, “Rejecting our father is robbing from ourselves!” When we carry the baggage of bitterness and hatred, it robs us in more ways than we can imagine:

Physically. Living with unresolved anger literally keeps our body systems on full alert releasing chemicals within our body that can pose serious health risks over time.

Emotionally/Relationally. Unresolved anger toward a parent can be turned inward on ourselves or misdirected toward those we love. Serious emotional difficulties and relational breakdowns can result.

Spiritually. We can ultimately blame God for our father’s failures and forfeit the grace that only God can supply.

Biblically speaking, forgiveness not only releases the person who wounded us, it releases us from the sting of the wound.

3. Every dad possesses the seeds of success.

Success in fatherhood may mean different things to different people. Here’s what it comes down to for me: having my family love God, live for God, and live forever with God.

What must I do to assure that victory?

First, I must invest my time. In a recent survey, children were asked to describe tangible ways their parents showed them that they were important. Their most common answer had to do with what Mom and Dad spent on them ... not in money, but in time — time attending their games, their open houses, their band concerts and competitions, their church programs, etc. To children (and often to our spouse), love is spelled t-i-m-e.

The second seed of success is training. Remember the wisdom of Proverbs 22:6 — “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” The spiritual training of our children is a responsibility we cannot delegate to a pastor, youth leader or Sunday School teacher, no matter how helpful they may be. Through the values we live out, the example that we set, as well as the words that we speak, our children are depending on us to take the lead in their Christian upbringing.

Third, in order to be a successful father I must intercede for my family. The battle for my family is ultimately a spiritual one. I can’t build an eternally successful family in my own strength; it can only happen through God’s power working within my family when I pray passionately and persistently.

This Father’s Day, let’s give Dad the kind of affirmation and appreciation we typically save for Mom. But, instead of giving him flowers, give him respect. Recognize the role he plays in God’s plan for the family. As for us men, let’s use this occasion to recommit ourselves to being loving leaders, lifelong learners, and dedicated doers of the Word.

Jeff Brawner is senior pastor of Bonita Valley Christian Center in Bonita, Cal. He and his wife, Jewel, have two children, Jordan and Jacqueline.

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