Summary: What children owe their fathers. What children need from their fathers.
Today, as you know, is Father’s Day. It may surprise you to learn that Father’s Day is not a Christian holiday. By that, I mean it’s not recognized as one of the special days of the Christian Year which have been celebrated by the church for centuries, such as Christmas, or Easter, or Pentecost. In fact, the first observance of Father’s Day didn’t occur until 1910, when a woman named Sonora Dodd came up with the idea to honor her father. He was a Civil War veteran who had raised six children alone, after the death of his wife. Sonora Dodd proposed a day to honor fathers with religious services, special meals, small gifts and flowers. [Now, apparently, the flowers never really caught on. The gifts did, though. Especially the "small" part. Oh, you know what I mean. On her day, Mom is treated to dinner at a nice restaurant, and she gets all kinds of presents – flowers, and candy, and possibly even appliances. But on June 15th, it’s a different story. "Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Here’s your card! I put a stick of gum in it for you." Right? But that’s OK, ladies. We’re not bitter. You can have all that stuff, because we get the remote control.] The first President to support Father’s Day was Woodrow Wilson, but it wasn’t until 1972 that it was established as a permanent annual observance by presidential proclamation. So there you go. A little history with your sermon this morning. No extra charge. However, even though Father’s Day is technically a civil, rather than a religious holiday, honoring fathers is a very Christian thing to do. This goes back to the Ten Commandments:
"Honor your father and your mother . . . so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you." – Deuteronomy 5:16
How do we do that? How do we "honor" our fathers, as God intends? In several ways. For children and teenagers, those who are under the authority of their parents, honor is closely tied to obedience. And by "obedience," I mean not only outward compliance – doing as one is told, following the rules of the household – but even more important, a heart attitude of submission to one’s father, a willing acceptance of his authority. Paul highlights the importance of obedience in Ephesians and Colossians:
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ’Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise—’that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ – Ephesians 6:1-3
"Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord." – Colossians 3:20
And so, if you are a young person here today, and you desire to obey God in the matter of honoring your father, it’s pretty clear what you need to do – obey him. Submit to him, whether you agree with his decisions or not. The Scriptures say that children are to obey their parents "in everything" – that is, in every area of life. And so, although cards are nice, and even flowers wouldn’t be a bad idea, the best way to show respect for your father is to respect his authority. And that pleases God as well.
Now, does that mean fathers can rule over their households as petty tyrants, ordering their offspring around and barking out orders like a drill sergeant? Of course not. Because right after the admonitions to children that we read in Ephesians and Colossians come these words aimed at fathers:
"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." – Ephesians 6:4
"Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." – Colossians 3:21
Fathers, we need to take this to heart. We need to be careful that when we instruct and discipline our children, we do it with patience, and kindness, and gentleness. How easy it is, to break a child’s spirit by being too harsh or too critical, or by treating him with anger and contempt. It is not OK to vent our frustrations on our kids. Yes, we need to be firm. But we also need to speak and act in love; to treat our children as we would want to be treated in their place.
Let me ask you a question: Have you ever apologized to one of your kids? Have you ever realized, after the fact, that you punished them unfairly, or too severely – and have you then gone to them to ask forgiveness? I have. In fact, just about a month ago I had to do that. My youngest son had been on my nerves all day. I don’t know why, it was just a series of little things, but by late afternoon I had just about had it. Finally, he said something that struck me the wrong way, and I scolded him, loudly and emphatically. Immediately, I could see in his face that I had gone too far. It wasn’t what I said, or even the fact that I threatened to give him a spanking. But there was too much anger in my voice. My tone was too harsh. And he was crushed. He didn’t respond or talk back, he just left the room. A few minutes later, my older son came to me and said that he was lying on his bed, crying. And right away, I knew what I had to do. I went in and lay down on the bed beside him, put my arm around him, and said, "I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you the way I did." We talked back and forth a little bit; after a while, he hugged me and said he was OK, and I left.