A Pure Purpose

courtesy of www.mineeo.com

God's goal for all of His children is to transform them into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist said it well, "He (Christ) must increase but I must decrease" (John 3:30).  God is truly glorified in us when we are less and Christ becomes more.  In other words, God is greatly glorified in us when we are most sanctified by Him.  As a father and a man of God, my sanctification is God's pure purpose for my life.  It is this higher purpose that needs to define who I am and how I live.

We have our perfect model, mentor, and teacher in Jesus Christ.  His love for the Father compelled Him to live in a manner of great intentionality and purpose.  He was always about the work of the Father for the glory of His Father.  My personal calling is to follow in His footsteps.  I know that my life, much more than my words, will have the greatest and most lasting impact on my children.  As God defines me as a man, He refines me for a greater purpose.  With each step closer to God, I am better positioned to serve Him.

It is within this sanctification process, that God reveals His work within our lives.  As we cling to Christ, God bears His fruit in us (John 15:8).  At its most basic level this means less of us and more of Jesus.  This is an inseparable reality within our standing as a child of God.  To be held within God's grip of grace compels a response.  Saving faith will produce works, and God's love within us will move us to share His love with others.

What does this mean for us dads?  For me personally, it means that my words are not enough.  I need to  teach my kids the love of Christ by living out the love of Christ.  To say I love God is not enough.  I must relentlessly purpose to live that love in way that impacts others, most significantly my own kids.  

As dads, our kids can be a kind of mirror that reflects our life priorities back to us. While this may not always be true, we are positioned by God as dads to have this type of impact on our kids.  If I see my son acting a certain way toward his mother, I'd need not look too far to see who he learned it from.

This is a God-driven truth I have learned over time.  God uses my personal sanctification as one of His primary influencers over the lives of my wife and children.  The closer I walk with God, the more He will use me to impact my family for Him.  Yet, God is not limited by who we are or the lives we have lived.  Rather, in Christ Jesus our lives our unlimited by who He is.  As a father, I am continually praying that God will bring godly men and women into the lives of my children to influence them for Him.

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works."
Titus 2:11-14 ESV

The above passage has great implication and application for all of us.  

1- God's grace through Jesus Christ came to save us.
2- God's grace through Jesus Christ came to train us to live for Him.
3- God's grace through Jesus Christ gives us a new life focus and greater life purpose.
4- God's grace through Jesus Christ will purify us for His good works.

As a child of God, this is my life calling.  As a dad, I can't do any better than aiming at God's greater purpose for my life.  Less of me and more of Jesus.  This life purpose affords no middle ground.  I must firmly holdfast to the plow that God has given me and not look back (Luke 9:62).  It is a sanctified life filled with continual repentance, renewal and total reliance on the completed work of Jesus Christ.  

No More Mr. Nice Guy

A number of years ago I read an article about a growing sentiment that men care more about being “nice” than being godly.  Let’s face it, it is much easier to be a “nice” dad versus a godly one.  Just like today’s nice guy, a nice dad leans toward passivity, is often non-confrontational and is a peace-keeper versus a peace-maker. Sadly, the nice dad syndrome has infected as many Christian men as non-Christian, and the fall-out is both tragic and devastating to our kids.

I can speak from a very personal level as I’m a recovering “nice guy.” For 25 years, I allowed the culture around me to train me in the area of niceness. In many ways, I was in a different boat but riding the same current as everyone else. Every once in a while, I would see a Christian dad paddling against the main current. He was often alone in his efforts and he was never considered a nice guy. He definitely would not party, never watched movies with nudity or profanity, and spent most his free time helping others or leading Bible studies.

Back then, I looked at that guy as an over-the-top Christian. Why? Christ defined who he was and how he lived in every aspect of life. There was no compartmentalization of his faith. He infused God’s Word into every area and relationship in his life.  In every way, he was a man on a higher life mission. Yet, what really made me dislike this non-nice guy was that he made me feel uncomfortable. I enjoyed riding with the current and having everybody like me. It wasn’t like I was the worst dad out there. I coached my kids’ sports teams, read to them at night, helped them with their school work, and attended church on Sundays. I was like most Christian dads out there and felt that I was nailing this dad thing.

Then it happened. About fifteen or so years ago, I suddenly realized that something wasn’t right. My life was not much different than the non-Christian dads out there who were nice guys. Sure, I didn’t party like them and I went to church on a regular basis. Yet, I also knew that I was leading my family down a fairly broad road and not the narrow one God wanted for us. I could no longer just ride the cultural current that was taking my family closer to the world but farther away from God. I can only look back now and say it was God’s Spirit moving me toward some serious growth in my walk with Him. It was my spiritual tipping point. I could no longer be just a nice dad. I had to become a godly one. Even if it meant losing my nice guy status.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Galatians 1:10

This verse says it all. Do I care more about what man thinks or what God thinks? If I want to be liked by everyone all the time, including my kids, I will need to wear my nice guy hat. To stand for everything is stand for nothing. This fits a nice guy well. However, if I want to please God and be a godly father, I must stand for Him. I must be anything but a passive man in my roles as a husband and a father. I need to be willing to engage my kids for Christ at every stage of their development into adulthood. I need to set an example for my sons to strive toward and be the kind of man that my daughters could one day marry. God has given me the honor to lead my family closer to Him everyday and I must relentlessly embrace this calling.

A Father's Heart-Imprint

I can still remember those late summer nights by the creeks in central Pennsylvania as my brothers and I fished and searched under countless rocks for crawdads.  Even now I can still see the silhouette of my father with his fly rod in hand as the sun dipped below the distant mountain range.   My father owned a business and was a very busy man.  Yet, he made the time to spend time with his kids.  I learned many foundational basics from my dad.  I knew then and know now that he struggled like any dad does.  This made him like every dad out there.  Yet, he never gave up and this made him different than many dads out there today.   Through my father's sacrifices and his commitment, he showed me what real love looks like.

As fathers, our lives will leave indelible imprints on the hearts of our children.  As one pastor I know correctly observed, God has created a default mode within the wiring of every child's heart.  Our sons will often "default" to our imprint and even more amazingly, our daughters will pursue men much like ourselves.  A father's heart-print on the hearts of his children is much like that of the iron that burns the brand into the cattle's skin.  Once it is done, the cattle are forever marked.  For me, and I hope for any dad, this should be an extremely sobering thought that should drive us daily to our knees in prayer.  

"But the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him.  For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7

This verse stands in stark contrast to the culture of our day.  Our children are being flooded with a continuous message that uplifts the external over the internal.  A quick assessment of the top selling teen magazines will immediately prove this point. While Christian dads may respond, "I would never allow that garbage in my house," the fact of the matter is that "garbage" is the prevailing cultural message, and it will influence our kids one way or another.  Here is the catch.  If we dads provide a Christ-centered heart-imprint onto the hearts of our children, the chances are likely that they will see the world's garbage for what it is.  While it's not a guarantee regarding our child's salvation, it is a God-given promise of tremendous hope that we see inherent within the book of Proverbs and other verses that touch upon the family.  

This should encourage all of us dads and moms out there as well.  If we remain faithful in our walk with God, our kids will be impacted.   I look at it like this.  God gives me the opportunity and the responsibility as a father to help build my children's life foundation, hopefully a God-built foundation that is saturated with His Word.  With each year of maturation, the responsibility of building is shifted from me to my children.

I recently had a conversation with my older kids, now 16, 19, and 21 on this subject. I reminded them that their mother and I were blessed to have been given the opportunity to help build their life foundations.  Yet, the house and the rooms that set upon their foundation will largely be their undertaking.  Each of them will need to decide whether or not God will continue to be their Architect and General Contractor.

This leads me to another practical application for us dads.  While our role as fathers changes over the construction of our children's lives, the goal always remains the same,  to "bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). This verse coupled with Titus 2 tells me that my job as a parent does not stop during the teen years.  Actually, this is when the sparks start to fly.  These young adult years are the initial "iron sharpening iron" years when my sons enter manhood and my daughters grows into womanhood (Proverbs 27:17).  As a dad, this is my time to crank up the mentoring focus and help create some of those developmental sparks. This holds true for older dads and granddads as well.  I can't stress this need enough.  We need more men with gray hair and battle scars to build into the next generation of husbands and dads.  

Yes, the early formative years are essential.  Yet, these mentor-driven years during young adulthood are as vital.  Our sons and daughters desperately need mentored in a way that honors their God-given development and arrival into adulthood.  While I pray that there will be multiple mature men and women that surround my sons and daughters during these years, God has given me the primary role to be a mentor to my kids at every stage of life.  I count this as my highest life calling as a father and know that it is only by God's grace and mercy that He will use me in this role. 

As I read Titus 2 something is very clear to me as a father.  While I enjoy having fun with my boys playing games and going on hikes, that's not my primary goal as a father.  That's not what they need most from me.  This world will tell them that games and fun are life priorities.  I must with unwavering commitment teach them our God-ordained priorities as men.

"...older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance...encourage the young men to be self-controlled.  In everything set them an example by doing what is good.  In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned…"  
Titus 2:2, 6-8

Don't get me wrong.  We will have times of fun engaging in activities that guys like to do.  Yet, these activities do not make us godly men.  What makes a godly man is what controls and compels his heart.  This brings us back to the heart-print concept.  As a dad, what am I doing to ensure my sons' hearts are imprinted with temperance, self-control, sound in faith, in love, fortitude, integrity, seriousness and sound in speech?

Here's a really wonderful added benefit.  As I strive to be an example for my sons, my daughters get to see the fruit of those efforts.  It also provides a great conversational bridge into the heart of our daughters.  Both my oldest children could be married within a few years.  Without question, apart from Christ, the relationship of marriage will be one of their greatest life pursuits.  Given the likeliness of this relationship, this is one area of teaching, coaching, and mentoring that we must engage as parents.  Think about all the time and resources parents and society spends on the preparation of academics and sports throughout a child's maturing years.  Shouldn't we give even greater attention to the spiritual formation of our children's hearts and their needs to learn what it takes to be a godly man and a godly woman?

One last comment on a father's heart-imprint.  Being involved with prison ministry for a number of years, I know the damage that a negative heart-imprint or the total absence of a father's heart-imprint can have on both sons and daughters.  Sadly, in many cases it has cycled into generations of destruction.  Yet, I don't have to look within prison walls to see this.  I've seen the imprint of my own shortcomings and failures on the hearts of my kids.

However, this is where God The Father steps in and does more than any earthly father can do.  Through Jesus Christ, God renews our hearts and fills them with His love. This is important for all of us as dads and moms. There is no perfect parent out there.  In some shape or form, our efforts as parents will fall short.  This is why we must soak our efforts in everything we do with the gospel, and trust God with the results.

It won't be easy.  We may never see the fruit of our efforts in this lifetime.  Yet, we do know this.  As dads, our lives will leave a heart-imprint of some sort on the lives of our children.  By God grace, it will be largely His imprint and not ours.

     "Unless the LORD builds the house,  the builders labor in vain."  Psalm 127:1a

Fatherhood Challenge:

Read over Titus 2 this week.  While gaming and entertainment have become primary life-pursuits for many teens and men, what are the Christ-centered essentials we must actively seek to imprint upon the hearts of our children? After evaluation, planning and execution need to happen.  What are your next steps?

Keeping the focus on what matters most:

1- Acknowledge that the most important life-event for my children is entering into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  
2- It is imperative that I actively engage and cultivate my child's heart at every age.  The role may change but the goal remains the same.
3- Our lives must be saturated with God's Word.  As important, we must pursue to live God's Word.
4- (For married men) The way I honor and love my wife is one of the greatest heart-imprints I will ever give to my children.  For single dads out there, if the child's mother is still around this truth still holds true for you as well.  Your sons and daughters need to see you treat their mother in a way that shows honor and respect.
5- My children are ultimately in God's hands - not mine.  I must look daily to Christ in all my efforts, pray that the Holy Spirit is at work and trust God with the results.