By Bob Hiller –
I’m not a big fan of NASCAR. I don’t fancy Formula One Racing. It’s not that I don’t think those drivers are incredible, because I do. I would argue that racing is one of the most skilled and rigorous sports out there. I just didn’t grow up with it, so it’s not my thing. But the other day I was talking sports with a friend who told me all about his love for NASCAR and Indy Racing. He told me how his dad used to take him down to the race tracks and show him around the pits. He grew up on the roar of the engines, the smell of the exhaust, and the intensity of the race. He loved it, he said, because his father taught him to love it.
I realized that, though I don’t share my friend’s love for racing, we share something in common: our fathers handed down their love of sports to us. I’ve blogged before about how my love for baseball was formed by my dad. I learned how to catch, throw, and hit from my dad. He taught my brother and me how to yell at a game and overreact to inconsequential plays. For Spring Break, he and my mom took us to Spring Training and made sure we were able to attend opening day. My dad took something he loved, baseball, and passed that love on to his sons.
This weekend, of course, is Father’s Day. I am willing to bet your church is going to mention something about fathers this weekend. Especially if you are in a church that follows the lectionary, the Epistle reading is going to come from Galatians 3:23-4:7, where we learn that, through baptism, we are adopted as children of the Heavenly Father. In the mystery of the trinity, our Father shares an indescribable love with the Son and the Holy Spirit. He takes what, or better, whom, He loves (Jesus and the Spirit) and sends them to us as a gift. In Baptism, God gives His children (Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female, etc.) an inheritance purchased with the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit who cries out “Abba, Father” on our behalf! What is more, He does this all for free, for Christ’s sake! We don’t earn it by the Law or any other work we might try to trust. We have an inheritance with God because Jesus purchased us with His blood by grace alone!
Now, this is an overwhelming picture of what our Father in heaven looks like, and it actually has a great deal to say about what it means for men to be fathers. As our own Dr. Keith has so masterfully shown, fathers in this world are set in place by God to be a sort of obscure picture of God’s grace. It is really quite breathtaking when you think about it! We dads have been given the calling to give love, mercy, and joy to our kids. We are free in Christ to demonstrate God’s forgiveness when we forgive their sins. We teach them how to show mercy themselves when we confess our sins to them. We are given the overwhelming blessing of taking them to the church where we show them how to receive what matters most: Christ’s gifts of Word and sacrament. All of this is ours to do!
But I fear you won’t hear that this Sunday. Instead, this Father’s Day, you’ll hear about how fathers are failing. You’ll hear how the single most important factor in a child’s faith development is the spiritual life of the father. When it comes to future church attendance, it’s “like father, like son.” So, dads, the demise of the church is, at least in part, on you for failing to be a better man of God! Fathers will be maligned for loving their work more than their families, their laziness at home, and their immature, boyish attitudes. Then, to put a cherry on top, the service will probably end with some effeminate song designed to stir the emotions of the singers and assist everyone in falling ever more in love with their precious Jesus.
Now, as it turns out, I happen to believe that Christian families suffer because of dad’s disinterested attitude towards church. But the more I hear the church preach on fatherhood and the more I see the way worship is conducted, I’m not sure the blame is entirely on the fathers. Shallow emotional music and dad-shaming (I tried for a better phrase, sorry everyone) are about as appealing to men as a Hallmark channel movie marathon.
Perhaps we could all learn how to better address fatherhood from the way Paul proclaims our Father to the Galatians. As Scott says, fathers, you are an obscure picture of our Father in heaven to your family. You are the purveyor of gifts. You are the very one God has gifted to your family to hand over the goods of forgiveness and mercy. You have the opportunity to show your kids how a wife should be loved. You are free to teach them to pray, study scripture, and wrestle with the truth. Hey, you can even teach them some really solid hymns! You get to be the one to pull them out of school to give them what you love: take them to a ballgame, go watch a NASCAR race, go fishing (hey, even Galatians says that Christ set us free from the school master of the Law!). After all, you are all sons of God, and this is how your Father in heaven treats you by giving Jesus to die for you and sending His Spirit to dwell in your hearts. Your Father in heaven hands over the gifts! And, can you even believe it? You get to share those with your family! So, enjoy your freedom in Christ this Father’s day by giving your kids the goods! Like Father, like son!
p.s. Dads I pray you hear something like this on Sunday. But if you don’t, pick up Scott’s book here. It will set you free to be a dad despite what your church does to you. (And, no, Scott did not ask me to talk up his book. I simply think it’s that good.)