Happy Father’s day to all of you who are fathers, or will be fathers, or were blessed to have a godly father.
A crisis never makes a man or woman, a crisis reveals what we are made of. We’re watching a lot of people on the news right now—and it’s mainly men in the news in regard to police racism, or riots or even this pandemic. But we’re not seeing these men being transformed into better men because of the event, we’re seeing what they really are. Men are being squeezed, and we’re seeing the real personalities and characters revealed.
Three years ago I had a crisis in my life when a six year old boy and his nine year old brother came to live with me. I did not become a man of God or a perfect parent when they came into my home; my real weaknesses and strengths were exposed and I was found to be wanting. Prior to these little men coming into my home, I have, for over 35 years, lectured parents on tough love, doing the right thing, not trying to make a child happy but instead creating an environment for a child to be happy, etc. In my mind Captain VonTrapp, from the Sound of Music, not Mr. Rogers, was the example of a good father. But when these two little boys moved into my home I discovered what a fraud I was! Some things that you preach or teach from a pulpit just don’t work in the real world.
And so I agreed to accept two brothers into my home that the local DSS thought I might be able to help. Whereas I might have served as a father figure to youth over the past four decades, this was the first time that I have had two children living with me like this. It was exhausting! I am amazed at the energy they had as well as their inability to exercise self control. It was non-stop, rapid-fire questions, talks, warnings, explanations, confrontations, etc, with two very excited boys. Truly I had no idea that being a parent required so much dialogue, explaining, reasoning, reminding, reinforcing, threats, and at times having my own meltdowns.
Of course these boys also brought laughter and tenderness. They displayed an open-minded desire to know how things work and an incredible pining to “belong” in my home. I was reminded, again and again, that after being in various foster homes, they did not want to be relocated again. And that’s where my heart broke for them—regardless of their temper tantrums, lack of good manners, selfishness, silly behavior, et al. They wanted a home, stability, the assurance that no matter what they did, I would never give them away and someone would always be there for them. I am not an advocate of foster care—I think it is a broken system. But I am a staunch supporter of DSS’s attempt to get children out of foster care and adopted. If you are able, think about being a dad to a child yearning for a place to belong.
As I think about the proper mindset of a dad, I think of Psalm 51. Listen to David’s prayer to God after the prophet Nathan confronted him about committing adultery with Bathsheba and then ordering the death of her husband, Uriah. Consider how King David responded to all of this:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.”
Oh to have male leadership like this today! Where are fathers like this! God, please give us men who are “man enough” to admit their own stupidity and yet maintain their manhood. The world yearns for men in love with God and unwilling and unaccustomed to blame others for their blunders. That’s what we love about folks like King David. He had passion was for the Lord, yet he still made stupendous blunders and did some pretty evil things. But when confronted he repented and accepted the blame. God loves that.
Imagine a world where dads, pastors, governors, Senators, Prime Ministers and Presidents lived and said what David did. Here is his response to being rebuked by Nathan, paraphrased:
“It’s all my fault and I can do nothing to make it right. Without your mercy and your help I will do the same dumb things again! I need you every hour!” And it’s true. We can repent from our sins, and we can express genuine remorse, but we need intervention from The Almighty God to change! What seems to be left out in our national narrative in relation to racism, hate, bigotry, and violence is our need for God to get us out of this mess. We are NOT going to make it on our own as a society or a nation! We’d better get serious about our stupidity and inabilities. And it’s not a matter of simply having a female Vice President on the ticket or giving people who were enslaved 500 years ago “reparations”. We are all in trouble! Black, white, brown, man, woman and child. You cannot legislate morality or force people to be kind-hearted by staging riots or marches alone. We need heart surgery!
David also confessed, “My entire family is corrupt—-my heritage and family are part of the reason I am what I am! I was conceived, carried in the womb, born and brought up in sin by people steeped in sin.” It’s called “original sin”; it is the tendency to sin that is innate in all human beings; we inherited from Adam in consequence of the Fall. The concept of original sin was developed in the writings of St. Augustine. It’s in our DNA! David realized that he was hopeless without God to make Him pure!!! All of us are in need of redemption. Racism, bigotry, violence is common to all the races on the face of the planet—-it’s not pretty, but no one owns that DNA—we all possess it. White society has this stain of sin, pride, prejudice and violence in our make-up, and so do black, brown and the Native American societies! There are no pure, innocent and blameless ethnicities in society.
But despite all that he was, David boldly tells God what he wanted to become! And that was “God’s man—-pure and holy and pleasing to God.” Dads that are pure and holy are hard to find nowadays. A godly dad’s first focus on the Lord, then his spouse and children, and finally on his own pastimes and passions. But such was David. He established the correct priorities in his life.
But as with all the men on God’s honor roll, David’s relationship with God was one of obvious humility David begged God to do for him what he could not do for himself. He said, in effect, “Give me a new heart! I don’t need a healed heart, or a better heart, I need a NEW HEART! Only you can do this for me God!!!” And how it pleases our God to admit the obvious——we need help. We don’t need to be better, we need to be new. We don’t need a push from God in our nation, we need an awakening in our nation. The soul of America (and France, Mexico, Bolivia, etc) is desperate for God’s hand to cause us to become immediately aware of our national, spiritual poverty and depravity!
And David gives outstanding advice to dads and dads-to-be. And here it is: If your goal is to raise a son or daughter the rest of us can love and one that would be after God’s own heart, be a dad with “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart”. What a joy to be around men that have become gentlemen in Christ. A broken spirit is something God can take and re-create into a dwelling for His Holy Spirit. A contrite heart is the one able to be made into a new heart—-one suitable for God to use in a mighty way.
I discovered a little of what being a father is all about—and I was both experiencing this first hand and being reminded of how my heavenly Father loves me, forgives me, tolerates me, and never lets go of my hand. These two boys wanted, more than anything else, to know that my love for them was non-conditional and that it transcended their common mistakes, errors, and poor choices. I can offer that to them not because it comes naturally from me (it most assuredly does not!) But because I am a recipient of such incredible love as a result of the sacrifice of my Father’s only begotten Son.
In loving these boys I am no more than a flawed reflection of His love for me. But with God’s help, that love (from me to them) will become a bit less fractured and a bit more in keeping with how He first loved me.
I am learning that anyone can have a child, but it takes all you have to be a dad.
On January 23, 103 years ago, my father, Lewis Alvin Barley was born. It’s been twenty-three years since he died and I have not gone a single week without dreaming about him and hardly a day without missing him. Is this unusual? He was my hero as a child and my best friend and mentor as an adult.
The man never failed to believe in me and my vision of creating a “holy haven” for youth on Brown Mountain, and he was proud of me—-I knew this! He was proud of me. The man knew the best about me and the worst and he was still proud of me. When he passed away a light was extinguished in my life that cannot be replaced.
I would give anything I own for just five minutes with him right now. I would take him to Bob Evans (his favorite place) for another cup of coffee and just enjoy “being" with him. We would not have to talk—it would be enough to be with him. Even as I write this devotion my heart is breaking. I would give anything I have just for five more minutes with my dad.
As I have grown older I realize that one of the things God has graciously placed within my soul is the desire to pass on my father’s approval to another. I have not fully measured up to his ability to “build up” and encourage, but now I have four young men in my life to be a hero to as my father was to me. And no, I don’t set myself up as a proper example or as being an ideal man or a person of profound intellect or gifts, but nonetheless, I believe that He can use my passion and convictions to be an impartial inspiration to other young men and women. There is unspeakable joy and fulfillment in knowing that you have helped someone become a better young person.
This coming weekend our staff will arrive at the camp. I remind them that “little eyes are watching and little ears are listening” to us whether we know it or not. Someone might secretly see us as his/her hero, and God have mercy on us if we cause one of the little ones to stumble. My father tried to teach me not to stumble and also how to run the race. I hope that I am making him and my Heavenly Father proud.