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.  

Missional Dads: What Say You?

The history of mankind is a story of good versus evil.  It is one of epic proportion that continues to this day.  Few would argue against the fact that man is hard-wired with some sense of morality.  He knows right from wrong.  As Christians, we realize that God made us to love Him and to love others.  We were made for a mission much larger than ourselves.  No where is this mission more evident than within our own homes.

Charles H. Spurgeon, a prolific pastor of old, made the statement, "Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor."  Some 2000 years before Spurgeon made this statement, Christ made a similar one when He told His disciples, "...and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:9).  As Christian fathers, our number one mission field is found within the relationships of our home.  It starts here in our own Jerusalem, and by God's Grace goes out from there.

While it is quite easy for a man to become a father to a child, it is another thing for a man to be a father to that child.   Fatherhood is not defined by a single biological act. Being a father to a child is a life-long missional pursuit.  True fatherhood carries with it the reality that a life is now physically, emotionally and spiritually linked to it.  As a man, fatherhood is one of life's toughest jobs.  At the same time, it is one of life's most rewarding.  I've never met an elderly man that would say he loved his kids too much, or that he poured too much of God's Word into their lives.

To be missional dads is to see the relationships within our homes as our greatest mission field.  While our role as a father will change over time, the goal will always remain the same: To live and share Jesus Christ to our children.

Last year I was involved in making a Father's Day video that touched upon our missional calling as dads.  Several missional statements stand out in this video:
  • Fatherhood is not about us.
  • Everything we are and need as fathers was accomplished at the cross.
  • Our past does not define us - Christ does.
  • Our greatest teaching tool to our children will be bound within the lives we live before them.
  • We live in a manner that says, "Follow me, as I follow Christ."

                             (Used by permission, mineeo.com)

"Fathers...Bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord."  Ephesians 6:4

I'm reminded of a scene from Lord of the Rings, where Aragorn is calling upon his men to engage the battle and regain their honor.  He knows their past.  He knows that these men took the easy way out and let go of their missional calling.  Yet, Aragon knew that without these men the battle would be lost.  The scene ends with Aragon asking  the men, "What say you?"

I can't help but think we are in a battle for our families.   As fathers, we need to recapture our missional calling and once again see our homes as our primary mission fields.  Our wives and our kids need us.  For me, this has meant saying "no" to many good things to ensure that I take care of the most important things.  I've also realized that being intentional within my household disciple-making pursuits greatly increases the fruit of those efforts.  If I want to make sure some weekly devotional time happens, I better schedule it and then spend some time planning it.

Yet, at the heart of my missional calling as a dad is just the simple premise of spending time with my children.  Where I can then say to them, "Follow me, as I follow Christ."  The most powerful teaching tool is to experience it first-hand.  Even the times I mess up, I can still display to them a contrite heart in need of God's forgiveness and grace.   We have a saying in our family, "Mess up, 'fess up."  As dads, we don't need to be perfect.  We just need to relentlessly pursue the only Man that was.

What say you?

Missional Fatherhood

I recently went digging for some stats and information on men that I knew was out there.  I landed on an article that was very straightforward and did not pull any punches.  I don't know if the author was a Christian or not.  Regardless, he was right on with many of his conclusions.  As he shared and delved deeper into the current state of manhood, I could sense that he had reached a boiling point.

I have seen first-hand over the past decade how we are losing many men, both Christian and non-Christian, to the allure of video games.  Yet, whether it is video games, pornography, or sport-related hobbies the end result is the same.  Men are increasingly engaged more in their fantasy worlds than the relationships within their own homes.  As insane as this seems, it points to a much larger underlying problem.  The hearts of men are entangled within a world culture that is systematically and generationally dismantling God's design of true manhood.

As this guy went off on the topic of men and video games within this article, he shared a story about one of his friends.  He explained that his friend referred to himself as a "gamer" because it sounds better than saying what he really is, "a pathetic, 36 year-old man with a stalled career, unhappy wife and neglected child, because he's addicted to stupid video games."  Earlier in his article, he had explained that this same friend no longer engages his wife or kids.  He unplugged himself from the reality of his roles as a man and instead plugged into a make-believe world of video games.

I would suggest that the problem is not necessarily the video game.  The problem lies within the man's heart, and for that matter all of our hearts.  By God's grace I've been exposed to some godly men that lived out sacrificial lives for the sake of their wives, children and the needs of others.  Were these men perfect?  No way. However, they were men of the WWII era or descendants of these men that had a deeply ingrained value system.  Yet, as our country is now discovering, it's not enough to have a good value system.  You must have the right heart to go with it.

I'm reminded of good friends that have sacrificed so much in order to show two little girls from China what it means to be loved.   Their lives are consumed with a God-given mission to pour the love of Christ into the hearts of their kids.  Yet, their mission does not stop there.  If there is a need in their community, they would be the first to sacrifice more of their time to help out.  I know this dad well enough to know that if he ever played a video game it would be a game he was playing with one his kids.

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"  Micah 6:8

My friend is man after God's own heart.  He is a "Micah 6:8 guy."  This Scripture defines his, and his wife's life purpose, passion, and commitment.  They live for God and for others.  He realizes that his life is not his own, it's God's.  Unfortunately, the world today knows too few couples like this.

As Christian men, God defines our heart and our mission.  While this will look different for many of us,  the heart and mission will look the same.  My friend is a man on a mission, and his heart for Christ fuels that mission.  He wants to be the best Christ-follower, husband, father and friend he can be.  This mission defines and compels his life toward living for God and for others.   As a married man, I share this mission to be a disciple-maker in my home and my community.

I shared with a man today a question I continually ask myself:  If I'm not taking care of the most important thing, why am I so busy with everything else?

I know a handful of men that use video games and sports as a way to truly engage the relationships around them for Christ.  Whether it is spending some downtime with their unsaved friends or their children, they are using the games as a way to strengthen their relationships before God.  I applaud these men.  They are ambassadors for Christ in their respective mission fields, and we need more of them. These same missional-minded men are also capitalizing on every minute they can to build into the relationships around them.

Several nights ago I played a racing game with my children.  They blew me away. Just last night I played table-tennis with my wife and children, and we had a great time.  Games have their place.  Yet, I would propose, in the face of troubling times and with so many relational needs around us, that we need to be much more intentional about building into the lives around us.  This holds especially true for dads out there.  Our kids need us to engage them more about the things that matter most in life.

As I look at my friend's life, I'm reminded that as Christian men, our lives are not about us.  Our life mission is not finding self-fulfilment within the stuff we do and experience, i.e. games, work, etc...  Rather, our life purpose is to offer our lives as a "living sacrifice" and to find our greatest meaning in glorifying God (Romans 12:1 and 1 Cor. 10:31).   If my heart is undeniably tied to this mission, you won't find me wasting my time on things that matter little before eternity.

The issue really is not rooted in the games men play or don't play.  It circles back to heart motive and priorities.  If God has our heart, He has our life purpose and passion.  And like Christ, we will become preoccupied with our Father's business.

Fatherhood Challenge:

Spend some time this week considering where your hours go.  To impact our God-given relationships, we must be spending intentional time with them.   Would our friends call us "Micah 6:8 men," men after God's own heart?  What would our wives and kids say?

Regardless and Always

Several years ago, I came across an article about an 80 year old diver from Miami. He was an experienced spear fisherman that spent most of his life in and around the open sea.  He was spear fishing in the open waters off the Miami coast when he realized that his boat was no longer anchored.  After swimming toward the drifting boat for about three hours to no avail, he found a buoy and held fast.

God's love is commitment personified, and nothing can stand in the way of its effectual power.  God's love for His children is an immovable anchor to Himself (Romans 8:31-39).  His covenant of love exemplifies the essence of true relational intimacy, a love that is defined by faithfulness and permanency.  In the most real sense, God's love is devotion, loyalty, and resolve.

The Hebrew word dabaq (transliterated), that we translate as cleaving in the King James Bible, is a word with great depth and meaning.  Captured within this term is the idea of clinging to the point as to form a lasting bond.  The word dabaq is used numerous times within Scripture to portray the need to cleave or to hold fast to someone or something.  It has great application in our love for God and the love we share with our wives.

"You shall fear the Lord your God.  You shall serve him and hold fast (cleave) to him..."  Deuteronomy 10:20

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined (cleave/cling) to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."  Genesis 2:24

Interestingly, it is the same word dabaq that is used in 2 Samuel 23:10 to describe the manner in which a warrior clings to his sword while engaged in battle. Regardless of the soldier's weariness and the many battle wounds he is wearing, the warrior holds fast to his sword, knowing that his life depends upon it.  Letting go is not an option.

As a husband and a father, this speaks volumes to me.  By God's grace and the work of His Holy Spirit, He enables me to pursue this kind of love within my relationships with Him and others.  While not every relationship is by definition covenantal, our love should always carry with it this dabaq principle.

What does this means to me personally as a husband and father?  There is never a circumstance in life that causes me to give up on my role as a loving husband or father.  This doesn't equate to a superman-like life on my part.  Rather, it is just the opposite.  The only real superman that ever walked this earth was Jesus Christ.  There will be days that cause me to feel like quitting or giving up.  However, my feelings don't dictate who I am and how I live; Jesus Christ does.  Any "super" that I display in my life is the super that Christ pours into me by the work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5).

Like the warrior holding his sword in the midst of battle, I must hold fast to my commitment as a father and a husband.  To let go, i.e. to not love in a manner that upholds their best interests,  is not an option. Practically, this means I must hold fast to God if I have any chance to hold fast to my commitments as a husband and a father.  Without God I am incapable of having this type of love that is defined by an unceasing devotion, endless loyalty, and unwavering resolve.

By nature, I will drift.  Yet, with God's love and the Holy Spirit working within me, I can be faithful within my roles as husband and father.

"You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast (cleave) to him."  Deuteronomy 13:4

We live in a day when love and commitment are taking two different pathways.  This is not God's design for love, especially the love a father has for his children.  Within God's nature of love is an unrelenting element of faithfulness.  It is a love that shouts,  "Regardless and always!"  As Christian men, we must recapture the pursuit of our calling to love as Christ loves us (John 13:34-35).  This means we must equate love with commitment.  We must see the two as one path.  To give up as dads is never an option.

Remember our 80 year old diver from Miami?  He definitely understands what it means to "hold fast" as if one's life depends upon it.  After swimming for hours after his drifting boat to no avail, the seasoned fisherman found a buoy and held fast.  He proceeded to cling to the buoy for 18 hours in the Atlantic Ocean before being found.  I can only imagine that his rescuers needed to pry his body from the buoy.

God wants us to hold fast to Him as if our life depends upon it, and it does.  Apart from holding onto Him, our lives will drift toward self-preservation and self-indulgence.  As fathers, our children's lives will be shaped by the love we give them.  For married dads out there, our wives are in desperate need to know a lasting love that is defined by devotion and permanency.  

Regardless of what happens in life, we can respond in a way that speaks to a real love, a dabaq kind of love.   Just think of the impact within our homes if we truly held fast to God's model of love.  Our children will grow up knowing a loving father that will always be there.  My kids know that, unless God calls me home, I will be there.  By God's grace, I will holdfast to my responsibilities at home.  As a child, to know the security of a loving God and an earthly father is an amazing thing.  I was blessed with such a childhood, and I've made it my life goal to give my kids this same blessing.

Fatherhood Challenge:

  • See commitment as an essential component of true love.
  • Resolve to love within our homes in a manner that shouts, "Regardless and always!"
  • Hold fast to God that He may compel you to hold fast to your wife and children.