It Takes A Man To Be A Father

It Takes a Man to Be a Father

1 Kings 2:1-4

Dr. Jim Denison

I can prove that fathers need a day like today. Consider some school-age children’s’ answers to the following questions:

What did your mom need to know about your dad before she married him? She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer? Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Who’s the boss at your house? I guess mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.

What’s the difference between moms and dads? Moms work at work and work at home, but dads just go to work at work. Dads are taller and stronger, but moms have all the real power ’cause that’s who you gotta ask if you want to sleep over at your friend’s.

How did your mom meet your dad? Mom was working in a store and dad was shoplifting.

But there’s good news as well.

A priest surveyed the children in his parish, asking them which they would choose if they had to—television or their father. 92% said they’d take their dad.

Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg has published The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting. Here’s number one: “What you do matters.” Research for the last 60 years has drawn this consistent conclusion: parents have a profound effect on our children’s emotional, social and intellectual development.

What do we do with this role, this responsibility, this privilege?

Teach your children

David is about to die, to “go the way of all the earth” (vs. 1-2). So are we all. Every day is another day closer to death. We begin to die from the moment we are born.

What do we do with our approaching death? Leave a legacy of faith for those who will follow us. For fathers, this priority is first and foremost with our children.

“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” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Thus David “gave a charge to Solomon his son.” “Charge” speaks to the significance of these words. This father did not merely suggest or encourage—he challenged, even required, that his son heed these words. This is the word for a general to his soldiers, a president to his cabinet, a CEO to his associates.

This was David’s practice, as he assumed responsibility for his son’s spiritual life and growth. Solomon would later remember, “When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, ‘Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them” (Proverbs 4:3-5).

We must hand on to our children than which has been given to us, while there is still time. There is urgency in this. What have you “charged” your children to believe and become?

What to teach your children

“Be strong” (v. 2a). The word means to be steadfast mentally, physically and spiritually. This speaks to who our children are—strong spiritually, in the Lord.

Moses to Joshua, his “son” in the faith: “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance” (Deuteronomy 31:7).

We are to say the same to our children in the faith. God expects us to encourage them spiritually, to do all we can to help them grow closer to Jesus. If we provide for them financially, materially, and educationally, but do not help them grow spiritually, we have missed our highest and most eternal calling.

“Show yourself a man” (v. 2b).

“Show yourself”—make public your private faith and commitment.

Show externally the reality of your internal faith. Be sure others see Christ in you, through you. We can measure our success as fathers by the degree to which others see Christ in our children.

How do we encourage such spiritual growth? “Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses” (v. 3). In other words, teach our children to live in the word and will of God.

This is for all people, not just Solomon: “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13, emphasis mine).

For all times, not just Sunday: “Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always” (Deuteronomy 11:1).

Despite the prevailing culture: “Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 18:30).

Are you a man of spiritual strength and maturity? Does your family know it? Are you teaching them the word and will of God? When last did you spend time with your family in prayer and Scripture? When last did they see you make decisions based on prayer and Scripture? When last did you lead them to make such decisions together?


Playing Theological Scrabble

Playing Theological Scrabble

Acts 13:16-23

Dr. Jim Denison

I have an article written by someone with too much spare time. This person has played Scrabble in an unusual way: by rearranging the letters, “George Bush” becomes “He bugs Gore,” “dormitory” becomes “dirty room,” “the Morse code” spells “here come dots,” “slot machines” is “cash lost in me,” “eleven plus two” is “twelve plus one,” and closing with the worst on the list, “mother-in-law” becomes “woman Hitler.”

Today we’ll close our series with King David by playing theological Scrabble. There is only one way to arrange the letters of our days to make genuine meaning of them. Most of us want to write volumes with our lives and work. But there is only one sentence which will give us the harmony, peace, and joy God intends our lives and relationships to possess.

Refuse a divided heart

Today we’ll choose between David and Saul. Between two kings, two ways of life, two approaches to faith, two worldviews. Meet your first option.

Saul was the largest and mightiest man in his entire nation, a head taller than his contemporaries. When the Israelites wanted a king to protect them from their enemies, it only made sense that they would choose him. If the Mavericks could sign Shaquille O’Neal or me to play center, Mark Cuban wouldn’t have a hard decision to make.

And Saul’s early years were successful in the extreme. He led Israel to defeat the hated Philistines, to liberate the people from enslaved bondage, to procure a measure of freedom and security they had not known in generations.

But then came the test of Saul’s heart, the moment which revealed a destiny.

The Lord commanded the king to attack a people known as the Amalekites for their sins against Israel during the Exodus. Here was his clear word: “…destroy everything that belongs to them” (1 Samuel 15:3). But Saul kept “the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good” (v. 9).

The Lord responded thus: “Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: ‘I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions'” (v. 10-11a).

God gave Samuel this further word: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (v. 22).

With this conclusion: “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you” (v. 28). The point was not the lambs and calves, for the God of the universe has plenty. The point was partial or complete obedience.

Saul typifies the spirit of our day: serve God, but serve yourself as well. Give him what he asks, so long as you get what you want also. If we give him Sunday, we can have the rest of the week. If we give him some of our money, we can spend the rest as we wish. If we give him some of our time and abilities, we can use the rest as we please. Live in two worlds, serving two masters. This is the divided heart.

It is not a new worldview. Six centuries before Christ, a Greek singer and philosopher named Orpheus taught his followers that our souls are separate from our bodies, that in fact our bodies were created to punish and purify our souls. So the “spiritual” is good, while the “secular” is bad.

This single idea influenced Pythagoras, who influenced Plato, who influenced Augustine, who influenced Luther. It has come to permeate all of Western civilization, so that it is in the very air we breathe today. There is the spiritual and the secular, the church and the “real world,” Sunday and Monday. Give God what he wants, but only so long as we get what we want as well.

The divided heart affects us in every way. Here are some hard questions. They are intended kindly, but they reveal the way we are all tempted by this worldview.

This week, did you meet God every morning for an extended time of prayer, Bible study, and worship? If not, why not? Is it that you didn’t have the time? Or is it that you didn’t want to give the time? Would such a commitment require a lifestyle adjustment you don’t want to make? Would it cost you sleep, or leisure, or work you don’t want to give? Are you trying to serve God and self at the same time?

This week, did you make your faith public? Did you share the gospel with a lost friend or colleague or relative? If not, why not? Is it that you didn’t know how? Or is it that you didn’t want to take the chance? Would such a commitment require a risk you don’t want to take? Would it cost you socially? Are you trying to serve God and self?

Today, did you give the tithe, ten percent of your income, to God? If not, why not? Is it your belief that you cannot afford to do so? Is it true that you actually cannot afford to give ten percent of your income to the One who gave everything to you, or is it that such a commitment would cost you more than you want to pay? Would it require a lifestyle adjustment you don’t want to make? Are you trying to serve God and self?

A recent poll revealed that three-quarters of college students surveyed said their professors taught them there is no clear standard of right and wrong. In 2001, almost 30 million Americans said they had no religion—more than double the number from 1990. George Gallup recently reported that 20 percent of self-described born-again Christians believe in reincarnation, 26 percent in astrology, and 16 percent have visited a fortuneteller. 30 percent say that cohabitation, gay sex, and watching pornography is morally acceptable. We want to live for God, but for ourselves as well.


When A Child Dies

When a Child Dies

2 Samuel 12:13-25

Dr. Jim Denison

A little girl noticed some gray hair on her mother’s head and asked, “Why are some of your hairs white?” Her mother replied, “Every time you do something wrong, one of my hairs turns white.” The little girl thought about her answer for a moment and then asked, “Mom, how come all of grandma’s hairs are white?”

A teacher was teaching her class about the circulation of blood and said, “If I stood on my head, the blood would run into it and I would turn red in the face.” “Yes,” the class said. “Then why is it that while I am standing in the ordinary position, the blood doesn’t run into my feet?” A little boy in the back of the room shouted, “‘Cause your feet ain’t empty.”

The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Christian school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of applies. A teacher made a note: “Take only one—God is watching.” Further along the lunch line was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note: “Take all you want—God is watching the apples.”

Despite the challenge they can be, children are our greatest joy and privilege. Our church loves children, making Vacation Bible School (which starts Monday) one of our favorite weeks of the year.

We love our children, and we assume that God does also. So the issue we must face today is the hardest question parents ask: why do children die? What do we do when we lose a child? Where is God then? How are we to trust a God who allows or even causes such a tragedy?

We’ll discuss David’s child first, then look at what Scripture says about our children and their heavenly Father today.

Why did David’s child die?

Remember the tragic, adulterous sin of David and Bathsheba. Now the Lord, speaking through his prophet Nathan, tells David that the child of their sexual union will die.

David will not die, even though the sin was his—”The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (v. 13).

Why? Because David confessed his sin in repentance (cf. Psalm 51:3-4, 10). And God forgave him for it, a gift David celebrated for the rest of his life (cf. Psalm 32:1-2).

But what of the innocent child of their sinful union?

I’d like to be able to tell you that their baby’s death was a simple coincidence, that the Lord had nothing to do with it. But the text won’t allow me to teach this interpretation.

The Lord knows that their unborn child is a boy, though there were no sonograms to discover this fact. And he knows that the child will soon die. Note that Nathan does not say God will kill the child, but that it will die as a consequence of David’s sin. Perhaps the child was born with a terminal condition which the Lord would not heal. Perhaps the Lord’s role was more direct and causal. Either way, clearly God could have prevented the death of this innocent baby, but he did not.

Why? Why did David’s son die? Here is the data supplied by our text.

David’s sin was larger than he knew: “by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt” (v. 14). Apparently his “private” sin would be private no longer. And the pagan enemies of the Lord and his people would be able to show contempt for Jehovah God.

If this God permits his king to commit such atrocity, he’s no different from Molech, the god to whom the Canaanites offered child sacrifices, or Baal and Ashtoreth, worshiped with adulterous sexual sin. One of the abiding tragedies of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal is the way it has made America look in the eyes of the Muslim world. So it was with David and his sin.

The Lord could simply punish David with death, and so vindicate his righteousness before the watching world. But David has responded to his sin with confession and repentance, and the God of grace has promised to forgive every sin we confess to him.

So the Lord cannot kill David for his sin, but must redeem his righteousness before the world. The death of the child of David’s sin will do just that—it will show the watching world that Israel’s Lord is indeed a God of righteousness—that sins have consequences with him. And I would imagine that David considered the death of his son a worse consequence than his own death, by far. I would. So would you.

What does God think of children?

So, is the text saying that the Lord permitted or even caused the death of David’s son in order to redeem his own name among the nations? Before we finalize our answer, let’s ask a second question: what does God think of children? How does his word view them?

The great miracle of the Incarnation is not that God would enter the world he made. As Creator, he had every right to visit his creation. The great miracle was that he would do so as a baby. Rather than appear among us in his heavenly status, the Lord Jesus chose to become a fetus, then a newborn, helpless infant. The hands that held the stars were sheltered in a mother’s arms. Christmas tells us what God thinks of children.

Jesus made clear his feelings on the subject in two separate incidents.

The first was his response to his disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). He knew they needed to see the answer more than hear it, so “He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven'” (vs. 2-3). The “greatest” in God’s kingdom is the one who is most like a child.