Bronwen Dickey is the daughter of the late poet and novelist James Dickey. When she was 15, she wrote an article for Newsweek reflecting on her father's death, and the impact he made on her life. As she describes the last day she spent with her dad before he died, she writes:
I can't remember exactly what I said to him. I think he knew it would be the last time we saw each other. Here was a man that changed my diapers, made me peanut butter sandwiches (with the crust cut off), read me poetry, stayed up with me all night when I was sick, came to all my recitals, braided my hair, watched movies with me, checked my homework... and he was dying.
Then she writes.
I think I [grieve for him] every day, because every day I am overwhelmed with the fact that I will never see him again, talk to him, ask him questions or listen to the answers again. He was my mentor and the dominant force in my life. So I am left with memories of greatness. Not the greatness of the writer, but the greatness of the father.
There's a lot of social science evidence, but it will only confirm what you already know - fathers have an incredible impact on our lives
In the popular 1991 movie, City Slickers, three urban men are trying to deal with mid-life crisis by going on a cattle drive. In one scene the three men are asking each other what the best & worst days of their lives were. For each, a father was involved. For one his best day was when his father took him to Yankee Stadium. For another it was the day he got married and his father winked at him during the ceremony. For another the best & worst day were the same - the day he told his father to get out of the house, because he was hurting the family through infidelity.
Sociologists tell us that the role of a father is critical in the formation of a child's character, self-esteem, and spiritual development. Our memories of our fathers will influence many of the decisions we make throughout the course of our lives - from whom we marry to our career choices, our parenting styles, and even how we view and respond to God.
Fathers have a tremendous potential for influence. As Christian fathers, we will have the greatest impact when we live a godly life. If you want to be a father that pleases God and greatly influences your children, you must live a life that is set apart:
1 Thessalonians 4:1-3 (NKJV) Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; 2 for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.
This passage addresses the concept of the believer's walk. The Christian life is compared to walking. Walking becomes a visual aid to teach us how to live. Throughout the Bible, we are exhorted to walk in a manner worthy of our calling:
Romans 13:13 (NKJV) Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.
Ephesians 4:1 (NKJV) I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,
Colossians 1:10 (NKJV) that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
Learning to walk or live to please God is a matter of Biblical instruction. It is neither natural nor innate. Without the Word, there is simply no way any of us are going to be able to walk as we should so we are able to please the Lord.
These verses in 1 Thessalonians 4 teach us that we can walk in a way that is pleasing to God, and the walk it calls for is holiness. The word "sanctification" used in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 is the Greek word hagiasmos, it means: "to make holy, separation from sin." Our holiness pleases God. God is pleased by our holiness, because He is holy and he wants us to be like Him in our every day life:
1 Peter 1:15-16 (NKJV) but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."
If I were to ask your closest friend, or your parents or spouse or child to describe you in a handful of words, would "holy" be one of them? "Well, they are fun, silly, generous, loving and holy!" "Uh, did you say holy?" The word "holy" may seem a bit archaic to us. It may cause us to think of those who have a "holier than thou" attitude to which we would never see ourselves being like that. Or we might see holiness as something so unattainable that it gives us the shivers to even think about it. I mean really, who can be holy? Only God, we might suppose.
Leaving these conjured up images and thoughts, let's move into the realm of God's holiness, and the practicality of it. God wants us to live holy lives, because He is Holy.
Do you know your heritage? By that I mean the status acquired by a person through birth. Looking into your family lineage, can you say you have a great heritage? Looking into our spiritual lineage, I can assure you we have a "holy heritage." Peter speaks of the self description our Heavenly Father places upon Himself . The words of Peter are a reiteration of God's already proclaimed declaration of Himself found in the book of Leviticus:
Leviticus 19:2 (NKJV) "Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: 'You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
Our God is holy. We hear it in the voice of the seraphim in Isaiah 6 that God is holy:
Isaiah 6:3 (NKJV) And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!"
The living creatures in Revelation 4 also describe our God as "holy" in this same three fold manner signifying His absolute holiness:
Revelation 4:8 (NKJV) The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!"
Our God is holy! This might be a good time to ask what it means to be holy. Holy, in the simplest definition, means: "to separate." To be holy is to be distinct, separate, in a class by oneself. As Sproul puts it:
The primary meaning of holy is 'separate.' It comes from an ancient word that meant, 'to cut,' or 'to separate.' Perhaps even more accurate would be the phrase 'a cut above something.' When we find a garment or another piece of merchandise that is outstanding, that has a superior excellence, we use the expression that it is 'a cut above the rest.' R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985), page 54
This means that the one who is holy is uniquely holy, with no rivals or competition.
When the Bible calls God "holy", it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be "other," to be different in a special way. The same basic meaning is used when the word "holy" is applied to earthly things.
To be holy is the opposite of being "common" or "profane." God is holy in that He is utterly different and distinct from His creation. His people must also be distinct, separate from the heathen attitudes and actions which characterized them as unbelievers. The translation of 1 Peter 2:9 by the King James Version conveys this idea of "separateness":
1 Peter 2:9 (KJV) But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:
We are to be holy in every aspect of our conduct. Holiness is not to be compartmentalized into certain "religious" areas of our life. Holiness is a way of life that affects everything we do. Holiness is a lifestyle, rather than mere conformity to a list of rules.
Holiness is a lifestyle which differs dramatically from our manner of life before we were saved. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He called them to live in a way which would set them apart from the Egyptians among whom they had lived, and the Canaanites among whom they would live (see Leviticus 18:1-5).
Holiness is the choice to march to the beat of a different drummer. Rather than to live as our culture encourages us to, we must live as God requires.
Tucked away in the calling of Moses is a great understanding of God calling us to be holy:
Exodus 3:5 (NKJV) Then He said, "Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground."
God declared the ground where Moses stood as holy. The ground became holy because God separated it for His purpose and revealed His divine plan there. God has declared us to be holy (1 Peter 2:9). He has set you and I apart for His purpose and plan.
Isaiah 6:3-5 (NKJV) And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!" 4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts."
Isaiah found himself in the holy presence of God. There was no place to run or hide. The best he could do was be confronted and convicted of his unholiness. One glimpse of God and His holiness, His purity, Isaiah quickly discovered that all his goodness was worthless. Isaiah would later write:
Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV) But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.
Holiness hounded his heart and soul. It pursued him relentlessly. And so holiness pursues us everyday in a relentless fashion.
Like Isaiah, we must begin with being confronted with God in all His holiness. It is then we will become uniquely aware and convicted of our own unholiness. This is not intended to drive us away, but to drive us into a deeper realization of our need for God. Holiness is God's agenda for our lives.
The Bible speaks of holiness as the possession of every believer, and as something which we are to grow in. One is the objective holiness that we have in Christ, the other is the subjective holiness produced by God in our lives.
1 Corinthians 1:30 (NKJV) But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God; and righteousness and sanctification and redemption;
We understand that Christ is our righteousness and the basis for our justification. But Christ is also our holiness. All believers are sanctified in Christ, even as we are justified in Christ.
Hebrews 10:10 (NKJV) By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Believers "have been"-- it is a completed work, made holy.
Colossians 1:22 (NKJV) in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight;
How can we, whose righteousness is as filthy rags, be seen by God as holy, without blame and above reproach in His sight? Because of our union with Christ, God sees His holiness as our holiness. A. W. Pink said, "In the person of Christ, God beholds a holiness which abides His closest scrutiny, yea, which rejoices and satisfies His heart; and whatever Christ is before God, He is for His people." The Doctrines of Sanctification.
So, the Bible teaches that you are already holy, because Christ's holiness is imputed to you. You have been made perfect forever. This is Positional sanctification. But, it also teaches that you are being made holy day by day through the work of God in your life. This is Practical sanctification. Peter says that because God is holy, we are also to be holy in our conduct.
We see in the Scripture God's identity as a father as our father is important, because it's how he chose to characterize his relationship to us. It's not just a description that was dreamed up by preachers or theologians. I could stand up here this morning, and say, for example, "God is like a favorite uncle". Perhaps I could use that "uncle-nephew" analogy to highlight some important truths about God. It might even turn into a pretty good sermon. But likening God to an uncle would still be just a human comparison, because the Bible never refers to him in that way. The Lord's Prayer, for example, doesn't begin with the words, "Our uncle in heaven, hallowed be your name," but rather, "Our Father in heaven." No, among all the human relationships He could have chosen as a metaphor for his relationship with us, he chose this one: "Father". There was something significant that God wanted to communicate by his choice of this title.
In fact, I'll go even farther. God purposely designed human fatherhood to be an illustration of his relationship to us. The whole reason that God even created something called "fathers" was so that we could better understand who He is. In other words, it wasn't as if God looked around at all the different kinds of human relationships He had created father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin and finally settled on this one as being the most similar to his relationship with his people. No, it goes back farther than that. In the very beginning, God fashioned the family, and the role of the father in the family, to serve as a living picture of who he is. Therefore, when he refers to himself as our "father," it is not arbitrary or unimportant; it is highly intentional. It has great significance. And by the way, that's why contemporary assaults on the Biblical view of the family are so destructive. Not just because they harm the people involved, who usually find that alternative forms of family structure don't work very well, but also because they obscure the picture of God that human fatherhood was intended to reveal. They make it harder for people to understand what God is like.
Dads, we are to live set apart lives that give our family a model of God. We are to be able to look at them and say, "Follow me as I follow Christ". We are to be an example of godliness for our families to follow.
Thomas Brooks said, "Example is the most powerful rhetoric." We tend to be creatures led more by pattern than precept, and that makes example so powerful. Principle and precepts tell us our duty, but example assures us that duty is possible. We need godly models - precepts fleshed out by example.
1 Peter 2:21 (NKJV) For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
Jesus is our example, we are to follow in His steps. We are to be like him so we should do what He would do. Paul practiced modeling Christ and expected others to follow him:
1 Corinthians 11:1 (NKJV) Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
Philippians 3:17 (NKJV) Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.
Philippians 4:9 (NKJV) The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
Paul clearly teaches that we are to follow the example of his life, because he was following Christ.
Dads, we, like Paul, should be able to say to our families, "The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do." We are to be holy in every aspect of our conduct. Holiness is to be a way of life that affects everything we do. What is different about us? How are we "set apart" to God?
Let me give you several very practical areas of our lives that should be "set apart" unto God:
1. OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OUR WIVES:
First of all, as men who are set apart, we should view our marriage as permanent.
Matthew 19:5-6 (NKJV) "and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."
We are to be set apart not only in the permanence of marriage, but in how we live our married lives. Husbands, we are to love our wives:
Ephesians 5:25 (NKJV) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,
Men, please notice carefully how we are to love our wives - "just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her." The unsaved don't do this, but for the most part, neither do Christians - we are not set apart to God in our marriages.
John Dresser wrote a book titled, If I Could Do It All Again. In it he shares 8 things that he would do differently if he could go through his years of being a father all over again. I want to share with you his first point. He writes: "Fist of all, if I could do it all over again, I would love my wife more, because by loving my children's mother more, I would create an environment of security in our home. Our love would be something they could see - something they would never have to worry about."
This is a very important area for fathers: If you are not loving your children's mother you are not being a good father, and you are not living a holy life.
2. OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OUR CHILDREN:
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (NKJV) "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5 "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
What do these verses imply? Verse 7 says, "...and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."What does that imply? It implies that you are spending time with your children. You cannot talk to them in all of these different times if you are not spending time with them.
In the movie, "The Godfather", there's a scene in the beginning where the godfather is talking to one of his sons. And he says, "Sonny, do you spend time with your family?" And Sonny said, "Yes, father." And the Godfather says, "Good. Because a man who doesn't spend time with his family isn't a real man."
Researchers set out to find out how much time middle-class fathers spend with their small children. When they asked fathers how much time they spent each day with their children, their answer was, "15 to 20 minutes". To verify, the researchers attached microphones on the children. The results were shocking. Middle-class fathers have an average 2.7 encounters daily, each lasting 10 to 15 seconds! Total time: 37 seconds. This is from JAMES DOBSON, who adds, "That, so it seems represents the contribution of fatherhood for millions of America's children."
I read a story about a Christian attorney who's father, according to "The Godfather", was a real man. This attorney was talking about the influence of his father on his life. And he said, "The greatest gift my dad ever gave me was when I was a little boy. It was a small box. Inside the box was a note saying, Son, this year I will give you 365 hours, an hour every day after supper. It's all yours. We'll talk about what you want to talk about. We'll go where you want to go. Play what you want to play. It will be your hour.'"
"My dad not only kept his promise," the lawyer said, "but every year he renewed it. It is the greatest gift I ever had in my life. And I am the Christian man I am today because of my dad."
This father gave his son the greatest gift a father can give: The gift of time. Fathers that are "set apart" don't find time for their kids, they MAKE time. Dads, how is the way you raise your children "set apart" unto God?
Lucille Ball, shortly before her death, did a remarkable TV interview with Merv Griffin. He asked her a very serious and pointed question: "Lucille, you've lived a long time on this earth, and you are a wise person. What's happened to our country? What's wrong with our children? Why are our families falling apart? What's missing?" Lucille Ball answered without hesitation - "Papa's missing. Things are falling apart because Papa's gone. If Papa were here, he would fix it."
Ephesians 6:4 (NKJV) And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
Again, implied here is that the fathers are spending time with the children.
In that article I quoted earlier, Bronwen Dickey was not remembering one specific conversation or great pivotal moment, she was remembering the countless little things her father did - making peanut butter sandwiches, attending recitals, braiding her hair - little moments spent together, which over the course of a lifetime give power and depth to the words "I love you", so that she knew at the core of her soul that she was loved by her dad!
3. OUR RELATIONSHIP TO FINANCES:
Today men are consumed by consumerism. They desire to buy things they don't need, with money they don't have, to impress people they don't even like. What is the result of massive consumerism? Massive debt.
The number one most pressing issue confronting American families today is their financial condition. 1 out of 3 Americans state that they are struggling with a serious financial problem.
Financial stress creates friction in marriages and is a major contributing factor to the break-up of families. But financial stress is not the problem, it's just the symptom of a larger problem.
Dads, one of two things happen 1. You have to get another job just to make ends meet, and you don't see your kids enough or 2. You end up getting a divorce, you still have two jobs and you still don't see your kids enough. Either way the cumulative result is a "fatherless family."
Dads, untamed consumerism will destroy your family. Responsible dads must learn to say "no" to their consumer appetite. The way we spend our money should be "set apart" unto God. How do you differ from the non-believer in how you spend your money?
Luke 12:15 (NKJV) And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."
So Dads, how do we live a holy life? Our progressive or practical holiness is the working out in our lives what we are in position. How do we do this?
1 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV) But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.
The word "godliness" is eusebeia. It's: "personal piety, or holiness." The word "exercise" is gumnazo from which we get our word "gymnasium." Do you go to a gym to be passive? Have you ever played passive sports? This word is related to athletics - hard work, sweat, and toil. Gumnazo means: "to train or discipline." Paul is telling Timothy that he must discipline himself for the purpose of holiness. Discipline is the key to practical sanctification. Let me give you a working definition of what discipline is: Discipline is doing what we don't want to do so that we can accomplish what we've always wanted.
There is no such thing as drifting into godliness, you drift into sin. We need discipline, we need to train ourselves, we need to exercise ourselves toward personal holiness. This is personal responsibility. We tend to be very lazy when it comes to our spiritual lives. It seems that the effort that most Christians put into their spiritual lives wouldn't exhaust a butterfly.
Proverbs 25:28 (NKJV) Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls.
To have "no rule over his own spirit" is to have no discipline, no self-control; to be unable to govern one's desires. In the ancient east, a city without walls had no defense to an attack. Self control is not just saying, "No" to what you shouldn't do, it is also saying, "Yes" to what you should do.
What are the Christian disciplines? Bible study, prayer, fellowship. It all starts with the study of the Bible. How can you even begin to live the Christian life apart from the Bible? You can't really know anything about God or your own sinfulness apart from the Scriptures. How much time do you spend a week in God's word getting to know your Creator and Redeemer?
Why holiness? Why should we strive to live holy lives? Because being holy, we enjoy our relationship with God our Father in a depth we may never know otherwise. To pursue holiness means to pursue Jesus, because the better we know Him, the more clearly we see how little like Him we really are. This leads us to deeper repentance, which leads to deeper forgiveness, which leads to a greater usefulness by God and greater holiness. And living a holy life gives a good example for our families to follow.
We have excused ourselves and taken the easy route for too long. We need to pursue holiness. We need to seek God. We need to hunger and thirst for righteousness. We need to get out of the world and get into the Word. Holiness pleases God.
Fathers, pursue holiness and invest yourselves in your kids and give them the blessing of being raised by a godly father! Be there for your kids. Teach your kids how to love God. How do you do that? You model it. Do your kids see you read the Bible? Do they see and hear you pray? Do they see you come and worship the Lord with the family of God? Do they see that God is the number one priority in your life?
Fathers, we don't have a choice, we will greatly influence our children. The question is will that influence be a godly one? There is no greater thing that you can give your children than a godly father.