"Dear Dad: A Father's Value "
Father's Day June 17, 2007 Gen.18:16-21
Stench Across the Pond
There's a strong, unpleasant smell drifting across the countryside. But it's not the usual smell that characterizes Huron County when farmers are cleaning out their livestock barns. This odour is different - coming from far away, the smell of a human society slowly rotting into decay.
At first whiff I dismissed it. A daughter read a section to me out of her 'alternative' magazine, Adbusters. It said, "According to the UNICEF report, which measured 40 indicators of quality of life-- including the strength of relationships with friends and family, educational achievements and personal aspirations, and exposure to drinking, drug taking and other risky behaviour -- British children have the most miserable upbringing in the developed world." But Adbusters is rather 'on the edge' and critical of convention, so I didn't take it very seriously.
But then while waiting at an airport for another daughter to arrive, I noticed the cover of a current Maclean's magazine which carried an equally negative message. The online version carries the title, "England Rotting", with some seedy looking characters and the comment, "England leads Europe in illiteracy, obesity, divorce, drug us, crime and STDs. Bloody h___." Hmm, maybe something to this after all - Maclean's is pretty standard reporting. The statistics it reports from the February UNICEF report are pretty grim: Britain "has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe, the highest proportion of single mothers, and one of the highest divorce rates.Britain ranks top, with France, in western Europe in terms of sexually transmitted disease....Britain has one of the highest rates of alcohol abuse in Europe...Britain also heads Europe in terms of drug abuse.Cocaine use is highest in the United Kingdom, and use among secondary school pupils has doubled in the last year...Along with Ireland and Holland, Britain has the highest crime rate in Europe. London has a higher violent crime rate than any other city in the European Union, higher than in Istanbul and New York City...One of the most watched shows on television employs police closed-circuit television-camera footage of drunken brawls each weekend in British towns and cities."
The Adbusters article fills out the picture of decay with additional details, saying: "The report explicitly demonstrated that...the British are trailblazers of generational instability and social deterioration. On the whole, British children were more disconnected from their families, with nearly half of 15-year-old boys spending most nights out with friends, compared to just 17 percent of their French counter parts.Forty percent of UK youth had sex before age 15, compared with 15 percent of Polish teens.They drank nearly four times as much as the Italians and...had the lowest sense of subjective well-being among all the youth surveyed."
As a parent, hearing these statistics, one of the first questions that comes to mind is, "Where are the parents? Don't they know their kids are out to all hours of the night? What are they doing to attempt to discourage their children experimenting with drugs?"
The examples given are more frightening than the statistics. The Adbusters article begins with the situation of a mother with 2 disabled sons ages 4 and 9 in Northampton. Many evenings, their home is pelted with stones for hours on end, thrown by 9- to 16-year-olds. Maclean's reports, "A few weeks ago, for instance, a mother, a grandmother and two aunts of a pair of toddlers were spared jail for filming a fight between the children in which they were goaded to viciously assault each other." One government leader commented that said "all these are signs of a culture that is becoming de-civilized -- and the terrible thing is, we are getting used to it."
What do families, and dads in particular, have to do with this increasing social breakdown? Some time ago the government abolished the married couples allowance, which gave tax breaks to a husband and wife who stayed together. It "made welfare benefits for lone parents far more generous and, perversely, rendered a poor family headed by a single parent better off than a poor family headed by a couple. An out-of-work couple with children would thus be better off by between 27 and 35 per cent if they broke up, and a couple earning minimum wage with children would see their income rise by 12 per cent if the father moved out.Britain leads Europe -- and most of the world -- in terms of single-mother households."
What's a dad to do? It seems the state wants to take over the responsibility for the family - a role that in a Biblical worldview belongs to parents, with greatest responsibility belonging to the father for leadership. It's evil to try to induce a man to abandon his duty to care - but that seems to be what the state policies encourage. David Smith of the Institute of Economic Affairs says: "The bravest and most admirable person in Britain today is the working-class man with children who clings to self-provision when it would be far easier to get on the state teat...If you look after your children and stay with your partner, you are poor and the kids are debits. If you leave home the state takes over your family and you, alone again, are richer." It's not too hard to do the math on that, is it?
But you don't have to go to England to find examples of the doom brought on by delinquent dads. It's very easy for young adult males to come into parenthood addicted to electronic sports like Playstation or Xbox, to the extent that their fatherly duties suffer. I'm told one episode of SuperNanny featured a dad who played with the kids when it was his turn to look after them, but then crashed out and watched TV when his wife got home, or drove around their quad. He did nothing to help clean up the mess from the day. His wife didn't just have the kids to cope with - she had one extra BIG kid who was just making things worse!
The Bible highlights the importance of Dads taking an active role in their families, teaching them God's ways and managing them well - so that such sorry pictures of social breakdown may be prevented.
Abraham's Mission 'midst Sodom's Destruction
Today we look at an small but important incident in the life of Abraham, forefather of the Israelites. He's YOUR father too in a way, if you have trusted in Jesus to be your Lord: Paul in Romans 4 says Abraham is "the father of all who believe...He is the father of us all...He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed..." (Rom 4:11,16f) Today as we honour our fathers, it's fitting we hold up Abraham's example as our 'spiritual granddaddy'!
Abraham's story is interwoven with that of Sodom and Gomorrah. When Abram gives his nephew Lot first pick of the land so their herds will have space enough, Lot chooses the well-watered plain of the Jordan, and goes to pitch his tents near Sodom. Genesis 13:13 notes - and this is important - "Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD." Why Lot didn't stay further away casts doubt on his sense of discretion.
Later, four kings including those of Sodom and Gomorrah revolted and were attacked by another group of kings led by Kedorlaomer, who then carried off the spoils and captives including - you guessed it! - Abraham's nephew, Lot. Abram gathered some fighters and allies and pursued the victors, attacking them during the night to recover Lot and his family. Abram refused to accept any reward from the King of Sodom for recovering all that was lost (Gen 14).
Then in chapter 18 God stops by Abraham's home for a visit - announcing his aging and barren wife Sarah would give birth to a male heir for him within a year. When they get up to leave, 18:16 says, "they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way." He had a particular interest in the area - not only because he'd delivered those captives, but also because that's where Lot lived.
In v17 God says, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" Here the Sovereign God chose to reveal His plans to a mere man, as someone is happy to share their plans with a close friend. In v20 God tells the sobering news to Abraham: "Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know."" (Ge 18:20-21) In other words, God is about to punish the cities for their 'grievous' sin, but first is going to check it out from 'ground level' (so to speak). Genesis 19 tells the sordid account of the inhabitants' sexual perversity; Ezekiel 16(49-50) alludes to social injustice, as well. "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."
The degree of evil in the cities is accentuated when Abraham boldly bargains with God, asking first if He would spare the city if there are 50 righteous people - then decreasing the number until God assures Abraham He wouldn't bring destruction if there are only 10 righteous people. Of course you know WHO Abraham's got on his mind - the family of his nephew Lot. But as it turns out, the population is universally corrupt - only Lot and his daughters escape alive, as God shows mercy to them, practically grabbing them by the hand and leading them out when Lot hesitates (Gen 19:16). So Lot's nephew's family is spared the burning sulfur that rains down to destroy the area.
The wickedness of the people must have been great to justify such punishment. NLT translates their condition as "extremely evil" in 18:20 - not only did these cities become proverbial for their badness, the expression 'sodomy' was coined to depict the type of sexual immorality. The reports of increasing crime and wickedness around us begin to echo what went on back then. How might such degeneration of society be prevented?
Note carefully what God says to Abraham in 18:18-19 that's bracketed by the mission of divine judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. God says, "Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him."" (Ge 18:18-19 NIVUS)
Think how significant that is. God's covenant with Abraham was not only to bless him for his faith, but also so that, as God said back in 12:2f, "you will be a blessing...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." God wanted to bless humankind; Abraham was part of God's plan to show the nations how to live in a way that pleases God. But the Lord can't bless nations that do wicked things. God chose Abraham to show the world how to avoid the judgment that befell Sodom and Gomorrah; Abraham's descendants would be taught to live in a way that would broadcast before others what it meant to know God and obey Him. For that to happen, Abraham would need to be a diligent dad - "I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just..."
Dads, do you get that? God's looking to you to make your home a lighthouse, a fortress against the waves of evil that would wash over the countryside. God's telling Abraham he has a responsibility to direct / charge / command his children and household to walk in God's way, to uphold two key values that ring out again and again in the Old Testament - righteousness (tsedaqah) and justice (mishpat). Accomplish that, God tells Abraham, and I'll bring about for you what I've promised - that is, BLESSING him and making him a great and powerful nation.
Instruction a Dad's Key Role
God designed families in such a way that fathers are supposed to give input into the formation of the next generation. In Britain, fathers are tempted to walk out on their families so they can take advantage of tax breaks. But this abandonment and neglect is creating communities that are fraught with crime and woe.
Malachi prophesied in the last book of the Old Testament, "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." (Mal 4:4-6 NIVUS) When God's law is ignored, when fathers' hearts aren't turned to their children, a curse is unleashed.
Moses told the people of Israel on the brink of entering the Promised Land, "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." (De 6:6-9) In our homes, we want to create an environment that is soaked or coated with godly principles. God's truth ought to be part of the fabric of our conversation.
Fathers aren't commanded to do very much in the New Testament specifically; but it's this instructional role that echoes loud and clear. Ephesians 6(4) commands us to bring our children up "in the training and instruction of the Lord." Paul writes to Timothy that leaders in the church are to be examples, particularly - "He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. [Paul then adds rhetorically] If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" (1Tim 3:4f) Fathers have a great responsibility in their homes that parallels that in any organization. It's a high calling - society suffers when that's neglected.
Face the Music
Does this sound like a daunting task? Help is available! When we receive the Saviour, He sends His Holy Spirit, the best Counselor available, to remind us of His teaching and give us God's guidance directly. We have easy access to God's word in Scripture - this may best be interpreted to your kids when they're young through Bible storybooks. Most youngsters love having Dad read a bedtime story. There are family devotional guides available at Christian bookstores.
But ask yourself, what's grabbing my kids' attention? How can I help re-direct that so they benefit from learning God's ways through that medium? Our children enjoyed Focus on the Family's radio broadcast 'Adventures in Odyssey' when they were growing up, and "Veggie Tales" videos. Be creative; notice what's engaging your children's interest.
In his book Faith Begins at Home, Mark Homen describes how one dad worked with the young man in his house to introduce Christian truth in an unusual way. He writes...
Rob was concerned about his teenage son's growing collection of black-covered CDs. He knew the lyrics weren't
healthy. But he didn't just take Nick's CDs away. On the way to school, he asked Nick, "What kind of music do you like to listen to?" Nick said it was a combination of rap and heavy metal. "Could I hear two of your favourite songs?" Rob asked. "You wouldn't like them," Nick replied warily. "You won't get into any trouble:' Rob persisted. "I just want to hear what your music sounds like." Nick reluctantly put a CD into the car's player. Rob Listened to two songs that made his hair--what was left of it-- stand on end. But when the beat stopped, he simply said, "Thanks for letting me into your music world."
That day Rob went to a large Christian bookstore and approached the employee in the music section. "I need you to help me find the four best Christian hard rock and rap
CDs you have," he said. The surprised clerk obliged. At a listening station Rob reviewed the CDs, then bought the two that sounded closest to what he'd heard in the car.
When Rob picked Nick up from school, he asked, "Mind if I play you a couple of CD?" Nick rolled his eyes and said, "Are you kidding?" "I listened to your music," Rob persisted. "Just listen to these songs and tell me what you think." Nick shrugged. Rob started the first song with the volume cranked up. Nick couldn't believe his ears. "What's this?" he asked. "Just something I picked up that I thought you might enjoy," Rob replied. He added that while he wanted Nick to be free to listen to the style of music he liked, he was concerned with the behaviour and some lyrics of the groups Nick was listening to. "Would you feel comfortable reading those lyrics to me or our pastor?" Rob asked. He told Nick he just wanted to make him aware that several Christian groups played the same type of music.
That evening Rob and Nick went to the Christian bookstore and picked out eight additional CDs that Nick liked. Rob gladly paid the hefty price for them. Nick now plays in a Christian rock band, and while Rob still doesn't care for the style of music Nick likes, he loves the message that Nick is getting.
Better young men in a Christian band pounding on drums than vandals pelting a home with stones - or mailboxes with baseball bats, or tipping over flowerstands on main street. Dads, let's discover the blessing for our homes and society by influencing our youngsters for good - with God's help. And if you're not a Dad - who are the young people near you that are waiting to be impressed with God's good and right ways? Let's pray.