Godly Fathers

Too often on Father’s Day the focus is on all the ways in which fathers need to improve in order to be what God expects them to be.  Lost in such an exercise is that a man need not be perfect to be a godly father.  The scriptures are full of men who are worthy of our praise and respect.  Yet none of these men was perfect.  However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work on improving ourselves.  On the contrary, we must strive to become godlier every day.  The point is that godly fathers do not get as much credit as they should for the good influence they exert.

One of the most revered men in all of scripture, David, was not the best example as a father.  Not only did he have problems with his son Absalom, but he also had issues with his son Adonijah, who appointed himself king when David was old.  The difficulties with both of these sons no doubt stemmed from what is said about David’s attitude toward Adonijah.  In 1 Kgs. 1:6 the scripture says, “His father had never crossed him at any time by asking, ‘Why have you done so?'”  In other words, David did not properly discharge his duties as a father in this regard.

Even so, all the kings who ruled Israel and Judah thereafter were judged on how they measured up to David.  The evil kings were said to have walked in the footsteps of their “father” Jeroboam, son of Nebat.  The good kings were said to have reigned as their “father” David had done (2 Kgs. 18:3).  So David became the standard of what a good king should be and he was a “father” to all the good kings who followed him.

This is where and how we should praise our own fathers.  None of them is perfect.  Neither are we.  Still, a man may be a godly father if he seeks the Lord with all his heart, like David.  When he does so, his imperfections and failures will be overcome by the Lord, so he may instill the attitudes in his children which will help them become what they ought to be before God.

Godly fathers take seriously the charge of Paul in Eph. 6:4, where he said, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  This is the only way their children will have the opportunity to know the Lord and to be saved.  They will not do so perfectly, but if their heart is in the right place, the Lord will reward them with success.

Godly fathers will also model their faith in word and in deed, so their children have an example worthy of imitation.  Paul said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1) . Godly fathers may say the same thing if they follow the Lord.  It doesn’t take perfection.  It just takes dedication and humility.

Most fathers generally do a far better job than we give them credit for, and we need to praise them for the good that they do.  Therefore, fathers, for all that you do, and for all you have done, to lead your children to the Lord, we say, “Thank You” and “God bless you.”

Persevere

The Legendary Runner of the Battle of Marathon

To persevere is defined as, “to continue doing something in spite of difficulty, opposition, etc.”  In the christian faith some have distorted this term to stand for the man-made doctrine of “once saved, always saved”.  John Calvin, the father of this idea, called this the perseverance of the saints.  The scriptures neither teach nor imply such an idea, but rather warn that a Christian may sin in such a way as to forfeit eternal life (Heb. 10:26-31; Gal. 5:4).

In its correct meaning, however, perseverance is an essential part of our faith.  In Heb. 12:1 the writer said, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance, the race that is set before us.”  The image of the Christian life as a race coveys the idea of perseverance, especially since the inspired writer said we must run “with endurance”.  This term suggests to us that our race is a marathon, not a sprint, and the difference is significant.

In a sprint, the runner sees the goal from the starting blocks.  He knows that he need only exert himself for a short time to finish his race.  He works very hard over that distance, of course, and he uses a tremendous amount of energy as he does so, but he only needs to work over the short term to achieve his goal.  On the other hand, in a marathon the runner cannot see the finish line from the starting point.  In fact, he cannot even see the entire course he will run.  He will not run as fast as the sprinter, but he will expend more energy over the long haul.  This imagery best fits the Christian life.  Our race lasts a lifetime.  There are no rewards for a quick start followed by a rapid burnout.

Paul spoke of this principle in his own life.  In 2 Tim. 4:7-8 he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”  Paul’s confidence about his eternal reward was because he knew he had persevered to the goal.  He had indeed “finished the course”.

It is the same for each of us.  Paul promised that we can receive the same reward he expected to receive.  To receive it we each must fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith, just as Paul did.  This means that we must not give up the struggle to live for the Lord until our life ends.  Each day we will face challenges to our faith.  Some will involve temptation to sin.  Some will involve facing ridicule or persecution from unbelievers.  Some will involve conflict with brothers or sisters in Christ.  Whatever the challenges, however, we must persevere in our faith and obedience until we reach the goal.  There is no other way to receive our eternal reward.

In Rev. 2:10 the Lord told the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” We will not be tested as sorely as the Christians in Smyrna were, but if we persevere in our faith we will receive the same reward that was promised to them.  Nothing in life can compare to this reward.  Therefore, let us persevere to the goal.

Trust

 

A story is told of a man who lost his footing while climbing a mountain trail.  He slid over the side of a steep precipice and would have certainly fallen to his death had he not caught hold of a tree root protruding from the side of the cliff.  Hanging there, he was literally suspended between heaven and earth.  He could not climb up to safety, and there was nothing beneath his feet but open air.  He began calling for help and suddenly a voice spoke to him from above.  The voice said, “I am God and I have heard your cries for help.  Do you trust in Me?”  The man replied, “Yes!”, to which God said, “Then let go of the tree root.”  At this point the man shouted, “Is there anyone else up there?”

Obviously, this story is hyperbole, but it illustrates the truth about trust.  We passionately affirm our trust in God, but our actions frequently belie our affirmation.  We read and quote Mt. 6:33, where the Lord told His disciples not to worry about their daily needs, but to “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Then we forsake the assembly of the saints while working day and night to provide for our family’s needs.  Like the man in the story, we’re not willing to demonstrate our trust in God.

One man who did not have this issue was King David of Israel.  His life is an example of trust in God, even in the times when he sinned against God.  In Psa. 25:1-3 David put his trust into the words of a song.  He said, “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  O my God, in You I trust, do not let me be ashamed; do not let my enemies exult over me.  Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed; those who deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed.”

When David took a census of the people in 2 Sam. 24, God sent the prophet Gad to David to declare His displeasure.  God offered David a choice from three alternatives as punishment for his sin.  These were: seven years of famine, three months of defeat at the hands of his enemies, or three days of pestilence from God (2 Sam. 24:11-13).  David demonstrated his trust in the Lord by choosing to fall into the hands of God.  He said, “I am in great distress.  Let us now fall into the hands of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”  David’s trust in God was rewarded when God stayed the angel’s hand as he was about to strike the city of Jerusalem (vs. 15-16).

David’s actions, as well as his psalm, demonstrated that he fully trusted in God.  He knew that if he waited for the Lord; that is, if he put God first, then God would bless him.  This is the crux of the matter regarding trust.  It must be shown.  Verbal affirmations mean nothing unless they are backed up by actions that prove their truth.  Anyone whose actions prove his trust will not be ashamed.  Those whose actions belie their affirmations will not be blessed.  This is a timeless message that sometimes gets lost when things are going well.

The real demonstration of our trust in God is our obedience.  Those who truly trust in God will turn to Him first, instead of as a last resort.  Having turned to Him, they will do all He commands of them without hesitation or reservation.  Trust begins with obedience to the gospel and continues with our ongoing obedience to “all that I commanded you” (Mt. 28:20).  It means putting God first in every aspect of our lives, so we need not worry about tomorrow (Mt. 6:34).  And sometimes, it means letting go of the tree root to which we are clinging, even though we cannot see how doing so will help us.  Do you trust God?  Then show it by obeying Him.

Memorial Day

 

The last Monday in the month of May has been designated by Congress as Memorial Day.  It is a day set aside to remember those throughout our nation’s history who paid the ultimate price in its defense.  Including the Revolutionary War and continuing to the present, more than 1.3 million Americans have lost their lives in the wars our nation has fought.  Compared to the losses suffered by other nations these numbers are small, but to the families and loved ones of those who perished, each life lost is a painful reminder of the cost of liberty.

The purpose of Memorial Day is for the living to remember and commemorate the sacrifice the dead made on their behalf.  Sadly, there are many today who apparently have no idea of this purpose.  For them this is just another opportunity for a three-day weekend, or a day off from work or school.  Others mistakenly view this day as a time to honor all who have served in our nation’s armed forces.  (Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, is the holiday for that purpose.)  The root of the misconceptions about Memorial Day is that we have generally failed to instruct each generation of its intended purpose.  Without proper instruction in this regard the observance of this day becomes distorted from its original intent and is thus profaned.

It is this point that has significance with respect to our faith as Christians.  The idea of a memorial is not a recent invention.  It has roots as far back as the call of Moses.  In Ex. 3:15, as God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He told Moses His name.  Then He said, “This is My memorial-name to all generations.”  In other words, this was how the people of Israel were to remember Him and all that He would do for them.  On another occasion God commanded Joshua to have Israel construct an altar of twelve stones taken from the Jordan river.  In Josh. 4:7 God said that this altar would be a memorial to the sons of Israel forever” to remind them that God had brought them safely across the Jordan river and into the promised land.  These memorials were intended to keep Israel from forgetting what God had done for them.

Those who are under the covenant of Christ also have a divinely-commanded memorial.  This memorial is the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord Himself instituted it on the night of His betrayal (Mt. 26:26-30).  The purpose of this memorial is for us to remember that the one and only Son of God sacrificed His life on the cross to pay the debt for our sins.  As we break the bread and drink the cup each Lord’s Day we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).  We are remembering that He died to set us free from the bondage of sin.

Unfortunately, some have forgotten, or have chosen to ignore, the simple purpose of this memorial.  The setting in which the Lord instituted this rite was a somber occasion because He would go to the cross within hours of the time He gave it to His apostles.  However, some today seek to turn the Lord’s Supper into a celebration, instead of a memorial service, as it was intended.  Some trivialize it by taking it on different days of the week, or at special occasions, like weddings or funerals.  Others trivialize it by only observing it on special religious holidays, like Easter or Christmas, or by combining it with a common meal.  All these actions profane the purpose of the Lord’s Supper.

Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:23-34) remind us that this is a solemn memorial that demands our utmost reverence.  If we mourn soldiers who die in defense of our country, we should also shed a tear for our Lord whose death on the cross set us free from sin.  We should do so even as we rejoice in the freedom we enjoy because of it.

Cafeteria Religion

 

At one time cafeterias were a popular dining option in the United States.  Large chains operated sites in many major cities from coast to coast.  The appeal of these restaurants was in the speed of service, and in the variety of choices afforded the customer.  Patrons passed along a serving counter and selected the components of their meal from multiple options.  Those items they did not prefer could be omitted from their meal.  Each person could construct his or her meal according to personal taste and never have to eat anything he didn’t want to eat.  The formal cafeterias of the 1940s and 1950s have mostly gone the way of the Dodo, primarily because of the fast-food boom of the 1960s.  Their closest descendant is the modern all-you-can-eat buffet, which carries on the time-honored tradition of picking one’s favorites from a large variety of offerings.

Although the cafeteria isn’t as prominent as it once was, the principle behind it continues to live, especially in religion.  Many people look at the scriptures in the same way they might peruse the food line of their favorite eatery.  Grace sounds good, so they take a double helping of it.  Justice, however, isn’t as palatable, so they leave it on the counter.  Faith is appealing, but obedience is too much like spiritual brussels sprouts.  Love, on the other hand, is like the dessert counter.  They heap it up on their spiritual tray because it tastes so sweet.  However, like physical desserts that are loaded with extra calories, they try to ignore the tough things biblical love requires of them.  Perhaps without even thinking about it some treat God’s word like a cafeteria, picking and choosing the things they like, while ignoring the things they don’t like.

As popular as this mentality might be, it is completely foreign to the scriptures.  From beginning to end the scriptures declare that we must conform to everything God has revealed in His word.  On multiple occasions Moses warned Israel to keep all of God’s commandments and not to turn aside from them to the right or to the left (Deut. 5:32; 28:14, et al).  When Paul spoke for the final time to the elders from Ephesus, he reminded them that he had not failed to declare to them “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).  Paul withheld nothing from them because God expects His people to obey all His commands, not just the ones they like.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he encouraged the young preacher to continue to teach what he called “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6).  The Greek word that is translated “sound” literally means “healthy”.  In other words, for a Christian to be spiritual healthy, he must be fed everything that God has revealed in His word.  Our souls are just like our physical bodies in this respect.  If we only eat the “sweets” we will be unhealthy.  If, however, we feed on all of God’s word, we will grow and mature in the faith, and we will become the servants God expects us to be.

This is exactly what God requires of us.  The writer of Hebrews chastised his readers because they had failed in this regard.  In Heb. 5:13-14 he said, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”  He also said, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).  Therefore, if our goal is to please God, we must abandon cafeteria-style religion.  Instead, we must take delight in all of God’s word and, like the psalmist, meditate upon it day and night (Psa. 1:2).  By eating all of God’s word we will become spiritually healthy, and we will be faithful to Him in all we do.