The timing of this message coincides with Fatherís Day, the third Sunday in June. In the United States, the first recorded modern Father's Day celebration was held on July 5, 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia. It was first celebrated as a church service at Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South, now known as Central United Methodist Church.
Another driving force behind the establishment of the integration of Father's Day was Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd, born in Creston, Washington. Her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, as a single parent reared his six children in Spokane, Washington. She was inspired by Anna Jarvis's efforts to establish Mother's Day. Although she initially suggested June 5, the anniversary of her father's death, she did not provide the organizers with enough time to make arrangements, and the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June. The first June Father's Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910, in Spokane, WA. President Calvin Coolidge recommended it as a national holiday in 1924. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson made Father's Day a holiday to be celebrated on the third Sunday of June. The holiday was not officially recognized until 1972, during the presidency of Richard Nixon.
We have come to celebrate Fatherís Day much in the same way we celebrate Motherís Day, with greeting cards, sometimes with small gifts, but always with the intent of showing our appreciation for what our fathers have done for us. Both Fatherís Day and Motherís Day were established by churches as celebrations to be held on Sunday and emphasized in their Sunday worship services. Consequently, each year there are many sermons presented that look at scriptural examples of godly fathers. Fathers may tend to use this time as one of introspection, a time to look at their own responsibility as fathers and find either frustration in their own inadequacies, or inspiration to become more like the father that would find Godís approval.
When we look at the Holy Trinity, we may find something that is truly amazing when we consider that God, who created the universe for His own good pleasure and created mankind so that they might establish a relationship with Him, has also revealed Himself to us through the attributes of a father. A father is one who is in a close, primary relationship with us. We have access to our father. He is not someone who stands off at a distance who rules us and judges us from afar.
This concept of God as Father is not new, but it may surprise us to know the Jews, the children of Israel, wholly rejected it. They thought of God in many terms, but Father was not one of them. The Jews did find righteousness through faith in God, with Abraham as their primary example. However, they perceived God as Jehovah, Yahweh, the great and mighty judge. They used many different names for God that illustrated many of His purposes, yet none of these names referred to Him as ďFather.Ē Hebrew tradition, in an attempt to protect the commandment concerning Godís name, made it illegal to speak Godís name aloud, or to write it out completely on paper. Jehovah, or Yahweh was spelled by listing the consonants, YHWH. Even in this instance, it was required to write the name with a newly cleaned, sharpened, and filled pen. The concept of a relationship with God as father was considered far too personal.
Consequently, Old Testament references to God as Father are rare, but they do exist. King David had a relationship with God that was consistent with Godís desire for us, a relationship similar to that between a parent and a child. Consequently, David did refer to God as father in a few instances.
He (David) shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. (Psalm 89:26)
Wherefore David blessed the LORD before all the congregation: and David said, Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. (1 Chr. 29:10).
The prophet Isaiah also had a close relationship with God and referred to Him as Father.
Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. (Isaiah 63:16).
But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. (Isaiah 64:8).
Note how Isaiah clearly denotes that the Jews do not acknowledge God as Father.
The Jews thought of themselves as ďGodís Chosen People,Ē and most still do. However, when God made his promise to Abraham and to his seed, that promise was made to those who, like Abraham, would place their faith in Him. Contrary to the Jewís understanding, the promise was not a blanket guarantee given just to Abrahamís blood progeny. The promise to Abraham, and to us, came with the condition that the people would seek Him, and turn from their wicked ways.
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14.)
God always sought to have a relationship with man that was close and personal. The type of relationship that David and Isaiah had with God is an example for us. In a community that did not accept the concept of God as Father, both of these had a personal relationship with Him, and through that relationship came to understand that God does exhibit the attributes of a father to those who place their faith and trust in Him.
Any doubts concerning the Father-Son relationship that God desires were answered with the coming of Christ, the Son of God. We are introduced to that relationship when Jesus was baptized by the prophet John the Baptist. When Jesus submitted to Johnís baptism and arose from the water,
While He prayed, the heaven was opened. 22And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, ďYou are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.Ē
We may see three characteristics of the Father-Son relationship that are indicated in the Fatherís message.
1. The Father identifies with the Son.
What a tremendous example for fathers with children. Jesus taught us, and Paul bears testimony to the fact that those who place their faith in God are adopted by God as His own sons (and daughters), literally bringing us into the family of God, the family of Abraham. Again, Abrahamís seed is not blood progeny, it is all those who followed Abraham, placing their faith and trust in God.
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13).
One may be able to visualize a father who proudly introduces his son to others, making it clear by his testimony that this one is a member of the family. This is an appropriate way for all fathers to relate to their sons (and daughters.)
2. The Father dearly loves the son.
The word translated ďbelovedĒ refers to one who is dearly loved. God is a Father who loves His son dearly and stated so to the Son and to those who could hear His voice. This declaration of love was the very first words of testimony by the Father. The Father honors the Son by such a clear and immediate statement. For some reason, our modern, pride-centered culture sometimes teaches us that it is not manly or virile to proclaim love for another, particularly for a son. Somehow the son (or daughter) is simply supposed to know of a fatherís love by observation. It may be rationalized that it is easier to show love by giving than to declare love by statement. Fathers, when is the last time you told your children that you love them? Godís love for us is absolutely unconditional. Likewise, a fatherís love for a child is unconditional. A father does not hold back love based upon any expectation of the childís actions or attitudes.
3. The Father affirms the Son.
The Fatherís clear statement that He is ďwell-pleasedĒ is an important and necessary message of affirmation. Even though a father may identify the son with himself, and may even say that he loves the son, the child can still feel that he/she does not measure up to the fatherís standard and be left in utter disappointment. Left unchecked, the child can lose self-worth and wander away from the influence of the father, seeking affirmation from another source. Fathers, are you proud of your children? Are you pleased by their accomplishments? Never fail to tell them so. Of course, there will always be attitudes and actions that a child will express that may not bring pride and joy to a father. However, the father can still affirm that which the child does do that is appropriate.
Fathers, do not assume that a child understands your affirmation. My daughter was born with a love for the academic. She loved letters and numbers, learning to read at a very early age. She was at the top of her class all through her school years, and both her mother and I were very proud both of her accomplishment, an accomplishment that came from her own desire to succeed. She graduated from High School a year early, at the age of 16, with very high honors. I was shocked when, after her high-school graduation, she told me that she always felt that her work was never good enough for her father, when just the opposite was true. She always performed far past my expectations, so much so that we expressed our pride in her at every opportunity. However, it is obvious that I did not express that appropriately to her. I cannot undo 16 years of a failure to affirm. Tell your children that you are proud of them.
Children, it is up to you to be a child that your parents can be proud of. Do not expect your parents to express pride in your in appropriate behavior. Your parentís love and pride in you is not something to be taken for granted. Remember that the commandment to honor your mother and father is the only commandment with a promise.
Once Jesusí ministry began, He immediately contradicted the traditional Jewish tradition concerning Godís relationship with man, bringing it back to the covenant that God made with Abraham, a covenant of faith between a loving and caring God and those who would place their faith and trust in Him. Jesus continually testified that those who love God are to relate to Him as a Father, as He did Himself.
4. The Father communes with the Son.
And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.
We find many instances of where Jesus was specifically engaged in prayer with the Father. Any relationship that is going to be successful requires continual and unhindered communication. We refer to a lack of communication between two parties as an estrangement, always an inappropriate and damaging circumstance in a family setting. For Jesus, the channel of prayerful communication with the Father was continually open. The apostle Paul also taught of the continuity of prayer. To Paul, prayer was an on-going conversation with a LORD who is always attentive to his needs and concerns. We can celebrate and thank God for His grace and goodness as He encourages us to pray continually, as He is genuinely interested in us.
Likewise, the channel of communication between father and child should be one that is open and active, maintained by a loving father who is genuinely interested in the needs and concerns of the child. Just as we have unhindered access to God, the Father, a child should never be afraid to approach his or her father. Many testify to a great amount of fear of their fathers who have intimidated and abused their children. Such parental behavior is entirely inappropriate, and particularly so for one who claims to love the LORD.
5. The Father is respected by the Son.
And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Though God wants a familial, Father-son relationship with us, God is still God and we must never allow that familiarity to diminish our awe and respect for who He is. God is not the ďOld Man Upstairs.Ē He is your dearest friend, but He is not your ďBuddy.Ē That is, He is not your equal in any way. Nor is He a credit-card that you can whip out of your wallet every time you wish to charge something to your spiritual account. God is still the creator or the universe with the power to do with it as He pleases. We have access to Him as Father only because of His great love, mercy, and grace. We have done nothing, and can do nothing, to deserve Godís least attention or concern. Consequenly, God is due all of the honor, respect, and praise that we can give.
Likewise, fathers earn the respect of their children through the nature of their relationship with them. There is a necessary element of friendship between the father and the child, but there is also a separation that comes from the responsibility that the Father has to guide and direct the child. A father who demonstrates integrity in his life, and treats his children with love, mercy, and grace will realize the respect of that child that will last a lifetime.
6. The Father includes the Son in His work.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
Jesus taught us to learn of Godís purposes on earth and to join Him in that work. These words in the model prayer remind us that we agree with the work that God is doing, both in heaven and on earth. Though we do not have any influence over Godís kingdom in heaven, we have a tremendous influence over Godís kingdom on this earth. God has given to feeble mankind the task of spreading His gospel message throughout the entire world, traveling next door to express love to a neighbor or to an isolated village in China where the gospel message is literally never heard.
As magnificent and as infinitely greater than man is, God has ordained a way that those who place their faith in Him can be engaged in an important part of Godís work. The difference between God and us is far greater than the difference between a father and a child, yet many fathers consider their children to be beneath them in a way that precludes in childís involvement in the fatherís life. When God includes us in His work, He is affirming in us the value that God holds for us. Likewise, fathers can find ways to affirm their children by including them in what the father is doing, ways that are consistent with the abilities of the child, yet still of value to the father.
I can vividly recall my own fatherís frustration after a long day as a treasurer of a federal credit union in the pre-computer days, when record keeping was done on paper vouchers. It was on these days that the voucher totals and the cash balance might be off by a few cents. He would announce his frustration at the dinner table, and after eating he would take me back to the credit union where I would tally vouchers and count cash along side of him, double-checking his work. We always found the nickel. However, as a teenager I was impressed by my fatherís trust in my ability to help him in a real and substantive way.
Including the child in a real and substantive way may require some creativity, but the rewards for expressing love in this way are also real and substantive.
7. The Father provides for the Son.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
As the Creator of the universe and the LORD of all, we recognize with little doubt that God has provided for all our needs. Every heartbeat is a miracle of Godís creation. Every healed scratch is a miracle of His incredible design. Every cell that divides and grows to produce that which feeds us is a miracle of life that God has created. Though we may fabricate and build, it is God who creates, and through that creative work, God has provided for every need of our lives. Regardless of our faithfulness or lack of righteousness, God does not withhold that which we truly need. He gives to us lavishly, even in our disobedience.
Our prideful nature leads us to desire to dole out to others that which is consistent with their own behavior. We will withhold from those who we consider less worthy, and lavish upon those who we consider more worthy. It is a truly loving and graceful father who, like our heavenly father, meets the needs of the child without any conditions.
8. The Father forgives the Son.
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
We know that because Godís love for us is unconditional, His forgiveness for those who place their faith and trust in Him is unconditional also. Though all are responsible for the consequences of our choices, those who love the LORD will not be condemned for their actions. Forgiveness is contrary to human nature, and defies human logic. We do not deserve to be forgiven for our continued disobedience and rebellion against God as we seek of our own desires rather than fully embracing the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we find it difficult to truly forgive one another. We may resolve within ourselves to accept what other people have done, yet we still fail to fully forgive.
Consider what it would be like if God the Father would not forgive us when we fall. There would be little reason to continue to strive for obedience. When a father harbors unforgiveness towards a child, his ability to fulfill his fatherly responsibilities is compromised. The relationship between father and child is strained. The child, recognizing that he/she cannot live up to the fatherís standard is defeated and will find no reason to try.
God made the choice to forgive us before we ever sinned. Likewise, fathers can simply choose to always forgive their children without condition. Children may still have to experience the consequences of their actions, but a loving father will always serve to temper those consequences and use them as teaching moments rather than as opportunities to criticize or condemn. A good policy is to ďforgive first, ask questions later.Ē
9. The Father leads the Son in righteousness.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
We know that God is good, all the time. God does not treat us, and will never treat us in a manner that is inconsistent with His goodness. God does not lead us into that which would bring evil upon us. Godís integrity is without compromise.
Just as we are called to imitate the LORD, children tend to imitate their fathers, learning from them far more than that which is obvious. A father who is characterized by integrity will teach a child to live a life of integrity. However, a father who compromises that integrity in any area of his own life will lead his child to do the same. A father who lacks self-control will teach the child that self-control is not something to be valued. A father who lacks honesty will teach the child that honesty is not something to be valued. A father who lacks faith will teach the child that faith is not something to be valued.
God, the Father of His creation sets the standard of righteousness and spiritual leadership. Likewise, it is up to the father to set the standard of righteousness and spiritual leadership as he leads his home to honor God in a lifestyle of uncompromised integrity.
Fathers, you may look at your own experience and find that there is an opportunity to examine your role as a godly father, to be encouraged wherein you have experienced success, and to be guided where help is needed. When we look at the fatherly role of God, we find in these verses at least nine characteristics of Godís relationship with the son. The father identifies with the son whom he loves. He affirms the son and communes closely with him. He is respected by the son for who he is and for what he does. He includes the son closely in his life experience while he provides for all of the needs of the son. He forgives the son of his disobedience as he leads the son into righteousness.
There is little that is simple and easy about being a godly father. However, God the Father has given us a tremendous example to imitate. Let us seek to follow His example rather than that of the world.