The stories of our lives have much to teach us about life, faith and the Way of Jesus if we take time to listen. This week, I invited our church and my social media friends to share stories
When we tell stories about our fathers, we start with the funny stories. It seems one thing fathers have it common is the ability to embarrass their children or tell a joke.
And this is where I want to start with a few jokes from my father. Like Jack Boozers preach father, Claude Boozer, my father was a humorist too. They both were quick to tell a funny story or relate a funny experience in their sermons to drive home a point to help one remember the lesson they was emphasizing. They both loved to tell a joke and to hear one and always had smiles on their faces.
This week as many of you were sharing your stories, I went through the preaching files I inherited from my dad. So, to help me get this sermon on Lessons from our Dads started, here are a couple of jokes about fathers from my dad’s file called “Little People Church Humor.”
“One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking in her small boy into bed. She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?” The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. “I can’t, dear,” she said. “I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.” A long silence was broken at last by his shaky little voice: “The Big Baby.”
Here’s one more:
A father was reading Bible stories to his young son. He read, “The man Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned to salt.” His son listened, scrunched up his face, and finally asked, “Well … what happened to the flea?”
Our Bible passage today comes from Hebrews 11 – the Faith chapter. The chapter starts with this definition of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” To describe this faith for his readers – to show what this faith looks like in real life – the writer of Hebrews tells stories of faith that had been told in his community for centuries.
· By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s.
· By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death
· By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household.
· By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance
These stories of faith reveal the deeper truth of the spiritual life: As followers of Jesus we will always be strangers and foreigners on the earth. We are the People of God seeking a new homeland. If the people of faith who came before us had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they – like us - desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” when people of faith choose to live for God’s better country – God’s kingdom – we have this promise: “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”
The stories of our fathers and mothers of faith point us to a land beyond this world, a better land. These stories invite us to live differently because our lives matter to God and to us
The same is true in the lives of our fathers. A friend wrote this poignant paragraph this week in response to my question: “Father power is an awesome responsibility! God is only perfect Father...the rest of us are merely trying to be the best we can be for our children. We face two key questions as fathers and parents: What kind of legacy do you want to leave your children? What will they say about you when you are gone?”
Father power is an awesome responsibility. First, let’s acknowledge the power fathers have in our lives.
· Fathers have the power to hurt or to heal.
· Fathers have the power to nurture or steal our childhoods
· Fathers have the power to teach both lessons to build a life or lessons to destroy a life.
· Fathers have the power to love or to hate.
With great father power comes a great and awesome father responsibility. There is a reason that fathers often grow quiet and reflective and a little scared in that debilitating moment when the doctor hands us our first child in the hospital: The power and the responsibility overwhelms us and we wonder if we are up for the challenge.
How we wield this power and responsibility in the lives of our children will determine the legacy we leave on our children. Like the lessons of faith the writer of Hebrews departs in chapter 11, let me share with you a few lessons on fatherhood that demonstrate fathers who have gotten this balance of power and responsivity right. And in so doing, they have molded the lives of some incredible people who have never forgotten the lessons they learned.
Lesson 1: Fathers teach us the practical ways to live in this world. Here are a few of the practical ways fathers have taught us to live:
1. You're only as good as your word.
2. Whatever you do, do it well.
3. Family is everything.
4. Pay your bills
5. Keep a good credit rating
6. Never pay the sticker price for a car!
7. One friend said: “He taught me how to shoot a gun, drive a car, tie a tie, do basic electrical and plumbing repairs.”
8. Another said, “My father taught me fiscal discipline. He didn't spare his success stories on investments and savings from his daughters! I am grateful because he was raised in a time when a woman's retirement plan was to marry well. He told me that "Americans buy everything on sale except stocks. If you sell when the price is dropping, you guarantee your loss." As I grew older, I realized that this advice was also a lesson on perseverance and identifying for ourselves what has value.
9. One friend told me this story about how his father taught him to fish and trust him: “After serving four years in USAF with three years served in Chateauroux France in WW2, my dad took me fishing his second day home from the war. He gave me his rod & reel with an old six inch lure with three triple hooks. I was thinking what fish would bite this old lure. Dad said go ahead throw it as close as you can by an old stump sticking up above the water. The lure disappeared and I had a bite. After several minutes - which seem like a life time - I got the fish close to the bank and dad used a dip net to bring in the fish. I still have the picture with that two pound and another four pound fresh water bass from that day. Needless to say I never doubted him again.”
Lesson 2: Fathers teach us how to treat other people.
Story after story I received this week had some version of this lesson. It seems our children pay attention to how we treat other people – both those we know and those we don’t. For example.
A friend from Oklahoma wrote: One year, my dad received an expensive pair of insulated overalls for Christmas. After opening gifts and having breakfast together, he began wrapping up the coveralls. I asked what he was doing. He explained that he had coveralls but a friend- another farmer- was in need of coveralls. Instead of giving away his used coveralls, he gave away his Christmas present so his friend would have a new gift. That life lesson in how to treat other people was seared in my mind and heart!
A friend from Missouri wrote: My Dad has always taught me not to judge anyone by their external appearance. Growing up my Dad would give stranded people rides, provide them with gas from the farm tank or bring them in and feed them. He grew up with nothing and never forgot it.
Helen Bryson told me this story about her Daddy in NC: I remember this preacher that lived far back in the mountains and walked to the community on Saturday where he would preach on Sunday. We lived on a river and the bridge was visible from our front porch. He told us at my daddy’s memorial service: “I knew that Sam Gibson (Helen’s daddy) sat on the porch and watched for me to come in sight and would always find a reason to come along shortly and provide a ride home.”
It’s not just any person though – our fathers teach us how to treat our mothers. One friend from Florida wrote: “My dad’s two big rules growing up were...1. Watch your attitude 2. Don't talk back to your mom.”
Another friend from Savannah said: My dad always said: "Don't forget to listen to your mama!”
Dads – how we treat our wives teaches our children how to treat the women around them.
Lesson #3: Father’s Demonstrate Love for us.
Finally, of all the powerful stories I received – the ones that came in long narratives in my inbox with the many ways our fathers demonstrated God’s unconditional love in our lives most impacted me. Here are just a few examples:
A friend who grew up in Virginia wrote: “My dad taught me what unconditional love looks like. For him and me it was driving 8 hours from Richmond, Virginia to Bristol, Virginia, watching a 45-minute peewee football game and driving back to be at work the next day. Unfortunately, I did not realize it early enough to thank him.”
A boy I grew up with in Savannah wrote this about his dad who died a couple of years ago: “My dad taught me through his actions and words, over and over again, that Christianity is about love. The action of loving one another. But he also taught me to love football!”
A college friend wrote: “Hi, Eric, I cannot pass up this opportunity! My dad was always so cool and understanding with us two girls....when I was 16 I had two car wrecks in two weeks! In the first, I ran into a stop sign (because I was trying to kill a mosquito) and scraped the whole side of the car. In the second, I backed into another car in a parking lot and took off the other car's entire back bumper (that car belonged to a young man). After the second one, I thought for sure my dad would be furious with me. He followed me home from that wreck, and I was so upset. I just knew he was going to yell at me. When we got home, however, he stood in the garage with me and said, "Well, Kendra Leigh"....(a sure-fire notice that a well-deserved punishment was coming my way) and I braced myself "Yes, sir?
He then said, "There are better ways to meet guys." and walked into the house. I stood in the garage for a long time wondering if I was in trouble! That was a great example of a dad who knew his daughter well, that I had beat myself up all the way home, and would not ever do anything so stupid again. He knew there was nothing he could say to me that I had not already said to myself, and worse.
Finally, a friend became very vulnerable to me when told me the story of coming home to her very exacting father to tell him she was pregnant. She had rehearsed her speech all the way home – just like the prodigal son as he came home empty handed and smelling like swine. Finally, she stood before her daddy who wondered why she was at home. After taking a deep breathe, she said, “Daddy, I’m pregnant.”
To which he responded: “Every child is a gift from God.” There was no judgement or screams, no scene, just grace.
That is the greatest gift a father can ever give to his children: God’s unconditional love, given as the free gift of grace.
This is how our children will learn the concept of a Heavenly Father – because they have seen the Father’s love in our eyes and hands and our words.
Father power is an awesome responsibility, Indeed! How we balancing the power and responsibilities God has given you and me for the Sake of our children, our families and our world will determine the legacy we leave with our children.
This is how we change the world – one father, one mother, one family at a time!
Thanks be to God! Amen!