I would say that most parents have had times when their children have angered and frustrated them. And if you have anything to do with teenagers, not only as a parent but a grandparent or teacher, you soon realise that there is something about that stage of growing up that is provocative, irritating, annoying, challenging, and argumentative, yet at the same time they can be so down right likeable. I guess teenagers feel the same way about their "olds". They feel that we are provocative, irritating, annoying, challenging, and argumentative and yet they wouldn't want to be without us.
Maybe some of this tension was in the home that our Lord was referring to in one of the greatest stories he ever told. It’s about a father whose youngest son rebelled against him. In fact, he wished his father were dead. He said, "Father give me my share of the property, now." The Father did just as his son requested, as strange as this seemed.
A few days later the lad packed his belongings, then went off to another country. There he lived it up and wasted his money on wild parties. When his money ran out his good time friends no longer wanted to know him. To make matter worse there was a severe shortage of food in the land. He did manage to get a job, feeding pigs, and that was about as low as you could get. But he was desperate. So desperate he would even eat the pig slops.
When he finally came to his senses the young lad said to himself: All my father's hired workers have more than they can eat - and here I am about to starve! I will get up and go to my Father and say, "I am no longer fit to be called your son, treat me as one of your hired workers."
Now comes the big point of the story. The son returned home. But while he was some distance away the father saw him coming and ran to meet him. Not to lecture him, not to beat him in to submission, not to make him apologise, or write out a hundred times, "You shall honour your father and mother", but to embrace him, kiss him, forgive him, and welcome him back home.
What could the son say to that? If there was a store in the local village that sold cards for all occasions, I'm sure he'd have selected one for today with the words on it, "You're the greatest Dad on earth!"
The greatest of all Dads is our heavenly Father, Jesus says. He called him "Abba", which is an affectionate name something like when we call our fathers "dad" or "daddy". Jesus asks us to recognise and call God "Father or Dad". He is that kind of Father who wants nothing but the best for us and will go to any length to ensure that we get the best. His love even caused him to send his own Son to die for us so that we could have a certain future.
He is that kind of Father who provides for every need that we have and protects us. "All this he does out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy" (Luther’s Small Catechism). He is that kind of Father who understands our situations in life and is able to forgive. Our heavenly Parent is hurt a great deal by the selfish and thoughtless actions of his children. And yet in spite of all the hurt and grief that we give him, he still reaches out with love and forgiveness. He calls us by name and says, ‘You are my son/daughter, I love you, and I will stick by you.’ We may deny our identity as his children, and yet he still welcomes us back with open arms.
God is the greatest Parent of all. From him we learn what it means to be a good father and a good mother. Most parents want to be good parents. They recognise their failures and their shortcomings, their selfishness but strive to be better fathers and mothers. It’s true some don’t but most do.
Since it’s Fathers’ Day, let’s ask the question, "What does it take to be a good father?" Or for that matter, "What does it take to be a good mother?" I have 8 quick points.
(1) Love your wife or husband. Your children watch how you treat your partner. They watch - and they are learning and forming their concept of marriage from you. You are creating a pattern, imprinting attitudes about family relationships on their lives and they will use this blueprint when it comes to their own marriages. What they have learnt will influence how they will love their partners and respond to their children. If they see how, you respect and love one another they will learn how to be good husbands and wives and will not be satisfied with anything less when it comes to choosing their own life’s partner.
(2) Enjoy your children. Children are given to us to enjoy, not to be a burden, not to ignore, but to enjoy! In order to enjoy them, you’ve got to be with them, have fun with them, share your life with them. Enjoy being a father and make sure that they enjoy having you as their father. Do fun things – laugh, play, give them some memories of Dad and Mum being fun to be around.
(3) Don’t expect perfect children. Like their parents there are no perfect children. Accept your children for who they are - whether they are clumsy or athletic, scatter-brained, or brainy and shy, or a motor-mouth, goofy, or sophisticated. Every child is different. It’s natural for a child to make mistakes - spill their drink - accidentally break things - do poorly on a test - get angry. Instead of constantly criticising their imperfections, acknowledge their imperfections - and love them.
(4) Listen to your children. Give them your undivided attention. When they have a problem, when they are worried, when they are sad, when they are lonely, they don’t need cartoons on TV, or a video game, or their best friends – they need you. If you listen to them when they’re small and their problems are small, then they’ll come to you when they’re bigger, and their problems are bigger.
(5) Provide for your children. I don’t mean that that fathers have to give them everything they want - that’s one of the worst things we can do. What I mean is that parents should give to their children in a balanced and sensible way. Poor and rich parents alike can teach their children the blessings of wanting, working, saving, and waiting for material things.
(6) Train your children. We must teach and train our children to respect authority in the home or they won’t respect authority at school or in the world. We need to teach our children that there are boundaries, rules, and regulations; that there is a line that they will not cross. Sure, children will test those boundaries, and see if you really mean what you say. Be consistent, discipline with love.
(7) Pray for your children. You can’t be with your children all the time, but God can. You can’t protect them wherever they go; God can. You can teach them right from wrong, but you can’t be there when it’s put to the test; God can.
Pray for yourself. You don’t have all the answers to their questions, you can’t solve all their problems; you don’t have all the wisdom, love and patience needed. Every parent is in need of divine assistance in this very special, this rather awesome task of parenthood. A person can read all the books about how to be a good parent, but there is not enough wisdom in this world anywhere to guarantee the outcome of what we do as parents. We need help! God's help!
(8) Be a positive role model. You are a role model for your children, like it or not, good, or bad, they will, to one degree or another, model their lives after you. You are modelling what it means to be Christian in today’s world; how you deal with issues and problems that arise; how you treat members of the family, friends, and neighbours. You are modelling the relevance and importance of the Christian faith.
Whether you know it or not (or mean to or not), you are influencing the lives of your children, and your children’s children.
It’s not easy being a good parent – but it’s not impossible either. It takes hard work, hard praying, and making hard decisions. You can’t do it alone. God doesn’t expect you to. God doesn’t want you to. Remember that he is your heavenly Father – ready to give you the help you need as a parent, willing to forgive your failures (the times you have lost your patience with your child, been unkind and angry, lacking in kindness and compassion).
Children are sinners too. They will rebel, fail, and sin. And God has given to parents the gospel to apply at the appropriate times to heal the broken-hearted, the guilty, the unsure, the hurt, the failure, and reassure our children that God still loves them and that their parents still love them no matter what.
A man was talking about his father. He said: "When I was about 19, I took the car out one night and got into a terrible scrape. I was taken down to the police station and allowed to call home. I waited with fear and trembling. Then my father arrived. I began to talk, but he put his hand over my mouth, and called me by name, and said, 'I don't want to know what happened. First, I want to tell you that you are my son, that I love you, and that whether I approve or disapprove of what you have done, I am with you until we see it through to a successful conclusion..."
That’s the kind of understanding, forgiving love that God has for us and urges us to have toward the children he has given to us. The Father’s arms are wide open. Forgiveness. Unconditional love. Home. God grant us his Holy Spirit that we may imitate in our own marriages and family life the love and forgiveness that we experience in our heavenly Father’s family.
The Gospel According to Jesus - John F. MacArthur
Encounters with Jesus – Timothy Keller
Vince Gerhardy Blog
Jesus: A Pilgrimage – Martin James
Only Jesus – John F. MacArthur
Talking with My Father - Ray C. Stedman
Jesus the one and only – Beth Moore