Romans 8: 14-17
"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him."
Yesterday, I celebrated my first Father's Day. And so my thoughts today are still on fatherhood, even if you are already tired of it from yesterday. Mothers-to-be, they say, live with a pregnancy each and every day. Step by step, pain by pain, they grow into being a mother, as the baby grows inside them. However, for fathers, they say, the whole process happens at once. This is exactly how it was for me. The moment when it all became real for me was that moment when Maria de la Luz Folkerth was born at Presbyterian Hospital.
Suddenly, there was this little baby there, before me. Crying sometimes. Sleeping mostly. But she was part of me. Or I am part of her. We are together related and bonded in a way that is humbling and awe-inspiring. And from that very moment she was born, I was stunned by how very much I love her.
In my office, folks often come to talk about their fathers. Interestingly, they talk about their fathers as they --now in their twenties, thirties, and even forties-- are just about to get married.
Sometimes, what people tell me about their fathers is really great. They tell me about the Dad who was "there" for them. They tell stories about the Dad who took them to Indian Guides or Indian Princesses. They tell about the Dad who coached their sports team when they were a kid. The Dad who was there for their dance recitals. The Dad who helped out in the Youth Group at church. The talk about the Dad who rocked them to sleep each night.
But far too often --I am sorry to
write you today-- these adults will tell me about fathers who *weren't* there
for them. They tell me about fathers who lived in the same house with them,
but who they never knew. Fathers who were too busy working. Fathers who had
affairs that ended their parent's marriage. Fathers who provided everything
they could ever need physically, and nothing of what they needed emotionally,
mentally, spiritually. It pains me greatly to hear people talk about their dads
this way. It makes me incredibly sad that, twenty and thirty years down the
road, the pain is sometimes still so real for these grown up children. Sometimes,
so real that it still brings tears. Those adult children have taught me something
about fathers. What they have taught me, without ever saying it just this way,
Long ago, Jesus told us that man does not live by bread alone. A man's family doesn't either. What families need from fathers is *all* of them. The man who is successful at his career, but miserable as a father is, in my book, a failure. For what does it profit a man if he gains the corporation, but loses his own family?
This is the great thing that Steven Covey has taught me, in his books and writings. He's taught me that *all* of life is connected together. We men sometimes want to compartmentalize it. But Covey says if we are true to all parts of our lives, then we must commit time and energy and enthusiasm to the family world *and* the work world.
Please, hear me: there are many, many fathers who do this quite well. They work hard to juggle all the balls in their lives. They are in the constant state of tired, as they try to balance all that is asked of them.
I think of my own Dad. I still remember how he coached my elementary school basketball team, through the YMCA. The "Preston Hollow Green Hornets" was our name. I don't even recall whether we were any good. But I *do* remember that my Dad coached us and spent time with us.
And I never stopped to think until recently about how he must've left work early to make those practices and games....and how he must've gone in to work early on *other* days, so that he could take off early to make those practices and games.
Dad did that a lot. He made silent, quiet sacrifices without making a big fuss about it. He was then, and is still now, always ready to pitch in quietly and serve his family. To lend a helping, guiding hand, without asking a lot in return. Heck, he even babysat Maria by himself one night a couple of weeks ago! He knows a lot about kids and loving them.
And I mention him, of course, because he's my Dad. But also because there are a *whole army* of father's out there like him. They are the strong silent types. To all of you who are these kinds of Dads, today, let me say, on behalf of your children: "thank you," from the bottom of our hearts.
I believe that single-parent fathers can be these great Dads too. I think of David George, who is a member of our church. David used to come to our Single Parent Group, every week, to learn how to be a Dad to his daughter Brittany. It was so clear that he deeply loved her, even though she lived 200 miles away. He still talks about her all the time, and has spent a lot of effort, working to become the best father he can.
Some of you reading this today, are not fathers, for a number of reasons. But I want to challenge you to believe that you can be a father-figure to children in our world. I think of Ernie Cote. Ernie is a member of our church who has started a program with high school kids in the troubled area of West Dallas. (Through the Wesley-Rankin Community Center there...) Ernie spends a lot of time with young men in West Dallas, acting as a surrogate father figure for them. After listening to some of Ernie's stories, I can tell you that there are probably boys who are *alive* today because Ernie took the time to care about them!
Many, many children in our world don't have good father figures. For some of you men reading this --who are single, or whose children are grown and live at a distance-- maybe God is calling you, at this stage of your life, to be a mentor to a child who needs love and attention.
Now, I want to turn it around, and write about the children of fathers. That would be pretty much all of us. All of us are children of a father. Some of us, as I've mentioned, are blessed and honored by our fathers presence in our lives. If you are blessed by yours, I hope you took the time yesterday to thank him. (If not, do it today!) And if your father has died, pray a prayer of thanks to God for his life, and for the ways his influence continues to shape who you are.
For those of you who find yourself angry and frustrated with your fathers, even well into your own adult life, I would challenge you to think about forgiveness. You might not be ready for it today, or perhaps even for a long while yet. But maybe someday.....
Thinking about this, I remember a woman, who I will call Ellen. She came to see me because her father was very near death. He was critically ill. She was troubled by this. She had been estranged from him for years, and had carried around such an *anger* for him. Now that he was going to die, she didn't know where she would put all this anger! (He had done terrible things to everyone in his family, years before). Before he died, she went to see him. (The only one in her family who did!) She told him that she forgave him, and that she loved him.
She told me later, that although he could no longer speak, a tear in his eye let her know he had heard and understood her. Forgiveness had been given. And she *herself* was also able to finally move on.
I am not saying you need to rush out right now. But I *am* saying that, for the sake of your father, *and* for the sake of your *own life,* someday forgiveness might be the thing to do. Once we become adults, living our own lives confidently, we sometimes see that --deep within even fathers who were once big and scary to us a children-- there is the heart of a scared little boy, who needs love and forgiveness too.
Today, Paul writes about God our Father. He says that we should cry "Abba, Father," when we pray to God. The word "Abba" is a very "familiar" word. It is not a strict, up-in-the-clouds, far removed from our lives word. It's actually more like "Daddy" than "Father." It's as if Paul is saying that we should pray to our *Daddy* in heaven, a familiar, kind, loving figure.
Paul says that, through faith, we are adopted in to a relationship with God. Through that adoption, we become heirs to God's kingdom. As God's children, we must know this: our Father loves us very much. Each of us is a special child in God's sight. Each of us is precious to God our Father.
Now I've said words like these my whole life. I've said that "each and every one of us are a precious child of God." But, I must tell you that, when Maria was born, these words took on new meaning for me.
I was 36 when she was born. I thought I pretty much knew what love was all about. I loved my wife. I love my family. Loved my neighbor. I'd written about love at church, preached on love...yadda, yadda, yadda...
The day after she was born, I came home to finally take a shower, and sit around the house for a while. And I wrote in my journal. And I sat there at the kitchen table, I was writing and crying totally unexpected tears of joy. Because, from the moment I *saw* Maria, it was like there were all the sudden *whole new rooms in my heart.* That's the only way I can describe it. I looked up, and there were new rooms in my heart! Out of nowhere. And they were filled to the brim with love, and compassion and joy, for this beautiful little girl.
And I think that's the way God our Father loves each of us too. From the very moment you were born, new rooms opened up in God's heart too. God's heart brims over with love, compassion, joy, for the life your life. In this room in God's heart, there are no contests to win. No certificates on the walls. The only thing in that room is the beauty and wonder of *you.*
We are all children of our Father. And God our Father loves us each very, very much.
Grace and Peace, Eric Folkerth
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