Fatherhood

Luke 15:11-32

And He said, "A certain man had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father,
'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.'
And he divided his wealth between them.
And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey
into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.

Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began
to be in need.
And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him
into his fields to feed swine.
And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating,
and no one was giving anything to him.

But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more
than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!
I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven,
and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.'


And he got up and came to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran
and embraced him, and kissed him.

And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight;
I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him,
and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it,
and let us eat and be merry; for this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.'
And they began to be merry.

Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house,
he heard music and dancing.
And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things might be.
And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf,
because he has received him back safe and sound.'

But he became angry, and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began entreating him.
But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you,
and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a kid,
that I might be merry with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured
your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.'

And he said to him, 'My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.
But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live,
and was lost and has been found
.'" (Luke 15:11-32)

There are some today who would like to make the Bible gender neutral.
They would like to remove all the references to God as Father.
God, in their edited version, would become our divine parent instead of our heavenly Father.
It is not an accident that God has been revealed to us as Father.
God wants to be known as Father.

There is no doubt in my mind that He does.
To think that God would deny the truth of who He is to accommodate the thinking
of a culture is to accuse God of duplicity.
To assign the reason God is known as Father to the mistaken assumptions of the biblical writers
is to deny the total inspiration of the Scriptures.
God intentionally revealed Himself as Father because He is Father.
Father reveals something of His nature and character, something He wants us to understand.

We live in an age where fatherhood has been depreciated.
There is no doubt that the traditional understanding of the family is under constant attack.
From the homosexuals and lesbians, who advocate same sex marriages, to the widespread
acceptance of unwed motherhood as normal, the traditional family has taken some severe assaults.
The radical feminists would have us believe that the real problem with society is men.
To them the idea of a traditional family headed by a father is a setback for women and for society.

Robert Griswold, associate professor of history and women's studies at the University of Oklahoma,
says in his book, Fatherhood in America: A History, "There is a debate in society today
over father's roles.
Fatherhood has lost its cultural coherence.
It's no longer clear what we want, what we expect from fathers
."
Into this culture, God as Father, still speaks.
He declares the vital importance of being a father and honoring fatherhood.

The Influence of Fathers

And today, we are seeing the disappearing dad.
Time magazine featured a cover story on fatherhood in its June 28, 1993 issue.
In that story it documented the changing shape of what we call family life.
It reported that fathers used to occupy a greater place in the home and that
"well into the 18th century, childrearing manuals in America were generally
addressed to fathers, not mothers.
But as the industrialization began to separate home and work, fathers could not be
in both places at once.
Family life in the 19th century was defined by what historians call the feminization
of the domestic sphere and the marginalization of the father as a parent
."

The article makes some other sobering points.
"Rising divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births mean that more than 40% of all
children born between 1970 and 1984 are likely to spend much of their childhood living
in single parent homes
."
And the impact of these fatherless homes on the children is significant, if not devastating.

Time goes on to say, "Studies of young criminals have found that more than
70% of all juveniles in state reform institutions come from fatherless homes.
Children from broken families are nearly twice as likely as those in two-parent families
to drop out of high school.
"

Unfortunately, some have bad memories of their relationship with their father.
Perhaps, their father was abusive or overly harsh or unloving.
That's so tragic.
Because I'm convinced that as a result of those memories they have trouble relating
to their heavenly Father.

Fathers have tremendous power over the lives of their children.
I'm not talking here about the physical power, which they exert in the home, but about
the emotional and psychological power that comes from the position of father.
Like it or not, we are shaped by our fathers more than we think.
Your father probably made an impact on your life.
There is something within us that makes us want to please our father.

And we need to feel his approval on our lives.
Fathers provide certain needed characteristics in the home without which children do not
receive the balance and emotional strength for future years.
God knew what He was doing when He created fatherhood.

We have in our text, a Biblical example of our heavenly Father and what, we earthly fathers,
should be like.
At first glance, you will recognize this as the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
It is a story about a son's backsliding and repentance.
It is also a story about a father's compassion.
Look at this story, through the eyes of the father, not through the eyes of the backsliding son.

We will probably see ourselves, or at least, experience some of the emotions common
to parents, especially fathers.
We can learn something, not only about our role as fathers, but also about our heavenly Father.
All of us can identify with the prodigal son who went his merry way without regard
for the responsibilities of life or the feelings of others.
We have all done that at one time or another.
Think how this father felt.
He had brought this son into the world, nurtured him, taught him to work, shared his life with him,
and now, the boy was ready to throw it all away for the sake of a good time.

One thing that is true, or should be, about all parents is that they do care about
the future of their children.
We want our children to succeed and make something of their lives.
How do we feel when our children exhibit a careless disregard for what is right and good?

Bill Cosby, in his book, Fatherhood, says, "Poets have said the reason to have
children is to give yourself immortality; and I must admit I did ask God to give me a son
because I wanted someone to carry on the family name.
Well, God did just that and I now confess that there have been times when I've told my son
not to reveal who He is.
'You make us a name,' I've said. ' Just don't tell anybody who you are
.'"

The truth is that when our children go wrong -- it hurts.
It leaves us with all kinds of feelings.
We are hurt, frustrated, disappointed, sad, worried, and angry.
It makes us plain mad!
What's the matter with them?
Why did they do that?
What were they thinking?
How could they show such blatant disregard for all we have taught them?
Who do they think they are?

We conclude that we need to show them who is boss, and that there are consequences
for their actions.
And this is entirely appropriate and essential.
When children are young and in the formative stages of life, we must help them to connect
negative and hurtful consequences with inappropriate and wrong actions.
They need that.

Have you ever witnessed the method of childrearing which says that all you need to do
is just reason with little "Jimmy."
The result -- little Jimmy becomes a terror.
He is totally out of control with little or no respect for the authority of his parents or any other authority.
There goes little Jimmy running around the church throwing hymn books as he goes,
and his mom or dad says, "Jimmy, that's not nice, don't do that."

Little Jimmy pauses for only a moment and resumes his behavior.
After several more attempts by the parents to reason with little Jimmy, they either give up
or try to give him, a "time out," and his reaction is a temper tantrum.
What he is really learning is rebellion.
At some point, those parents had better exercise some discipline, or he will never learn
that actions have consequences.

Proverbs 13:24 says, "He who spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is careful to discipline him
." (NIV)

Disciple teaches consequences.
It is best to learn consequences from your parents who love you the most, than to learn them
when you are out in the world from those who do not care about you.

Our heavenly Father also disciplines us..
But there is another aspect of His character revealed in this passage, which is often
neglected by many fathers.
I'm sure the father in our Scripture felt all of the emotions we feel, when his son took his share
of the inheritance and squandered it on wild living.
There is no doubt that he was hurt and angry and sad.
How would you feel?
And what did he do?

The first thing he did was to let his son go his own way.
After all, he wasn't a child anymore.
He had grown in years, even if he had not grown in wisdom.
And there are times when we must do the same.

Another thing he did was not to bail him out of his trouble.
If more parents would let the consequences of wrong decisions come home to their children,
more children would come home to do what is right.

That is what happened to the prodigal.
The Bible says, that after he had hit bottom, "he came to his senses."
He might never have come to this place if his father had kept sending him money.

When he realized how stupid he had been, he repented of his actions and decided to go home.
He was willing to pay the price for his foolishness and become like a hired servant
in his father's house.
Even the hired servants were doing better than he was.
He headed home.

Here is a challenge, fathers!
What kind of reception did he receive?
This is what happened:

And when the son was a long way off, he saw his father's house, but he didn't see
his father anywhere.
His father saw him coming and thought to himself, 'I wonder what he thinks he is doing
coming back here
?'

When the son arrived, his father called to him: 'Now that you've wasted all your money;
do you think we are going to take you back?'

The son replied, 'Father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight;
I am no longer worthy to be called your son
.'

The father replied, 'Don't you know that you have embarrassed your mother and me.
People are talking about what you have done and they have been saying that we are not good parents.
You have made us look bad to our friends.
But, you are my son so I am going to give you a second chance.

I'm going to accept you back into the family on six months probation.
If you don't mess up in any way in the next six months, then we'll forget about this episode.
Of course, during that time I will be reminding you of your stupidity and of how much
you have hurt us by doing what you did.
You've got six months to prove yourself
."

That sounds like what happens in many families today.
But that is not what happened here.
Instead, the father saw him coming and ran to meet him.
He threw his arms around him and forgave him.
He did not say, "I told you so."
He didn't preach to him.
He had a celebration because his son was lost, and is found.

The challenge for fathers is to be there with your children, with discipline and with love.
By our love we must show our children the love of God.
We must model the compassion of our Father in heaven while we live as fathers on earth.

We must not abdicate our role as the spiritual leader of the home.
We must manifest Christ in our lives so that our children will seek Christ in theirs.
and bend low in extending our experience hand to one who is seeking to find his or her way.

Fatherhood is a divine calling!
Let us never apologize for it.
Let us never allow it to be belittled or depreciated.

May we reflect the eternal Father's nature and pass that image on to those lives
God has entrusted to our care.

Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White
Email Dr. White at hleewhite@aol.com