Sunday, June 19, 2016

#138: Becoming a Christlike Father.

In honor of Father's Day, I got the opportunity to speak in Sacrament meeting today. I thought I would share it with you. Happy Father's Day!

If I could choose one quality to inherit from my dad…besides his roguish good looks….it would have to be his sense of humor. My dad is one of the funniest men I know. In fact, my friends and I have developed a rating system for measuring the humor level of a joke in honor of my dad. We call it the “Dave Scale”. Laffy Taffy puns are a 1 on the Dave scale. A joke that makes you laugh out loud is a 3. And a joke that earns a 5? It’s gotta be the best joke of your life. I’m grateful that my dad could be here today and I want to wish him a happy Father’s Day and remind him it’s just like Mother’s Day, except I didn’t spend as much.

"The Family: A Proclamation to the World" reminds us that fathers are a fundamental part of the plan of happiness and that “by divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness.” However, it is clear that this perspective isn’t always shared by the rest of the world. David Blankenhorn, the author of Fatherless America, once said: “Today, American society is fundamentally divided and ambivalent about the fatherhood idea. Some people do not even remember it. Others are offended by it. Others, including more than a few family scholars, neglect it or disdain it.”

Whether it be the inspiring courage of Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" or the less inspiring parental tactics of Darth Vader, there are examples of both good and bad fathers readily available for us to learn from. In the scriptures, we read about Adam, our first physical father and also the father of our faith. We read about David who may have been a mighty king, but not necessarily a very good father. We read about Lehi who was willing to leave everything he had to protect his family. These fathers, among so many others, set an example for good or bad of fatherhood.

In addition to these real life fathers from the scriptures, Jesus once shared a parable about a father and two sons. Found in Luke chapter 15, we usually refer to this story as the parable of the prodigal son. However, I would like to take a different perspective today and call it the parable of the Christlike father (original idea from a sermon by Pastor Jim Henry, “The Parable of the Perfect Father”).

The first thing we see is that the Christlike father is approachable. In verse 11 and 12, we read: A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.” Essentially, the younger son came to his father and said, “I want what is mine and I want it now.''

This son surely knew that he could ask his father for such an important thing because his father was approachable. As a father, one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to listen to them. When you listen to what they say, you're letting them know that “you are important to me.” Isn’t this how our Heavenly Father is? He is available to us day or night in any circumstance if we are simply willing to reach out to Him in prayer.

Continuing in verse 12 of the parable, we see that the Christlike father complied with his son’s request by “dividing unto him his living”, which leads to the second lesson from the parable. You may ask, ''Didn’t the father know his son was going to waste his inheritance?'' As Pastor Henry put it, “When your child approaches you and asks you to do something that you know is against everything they'd been raised to believe and do; you know they're going to go out there and get into trouble”, shouldn’t you stop them?

I personally think that before giving his son his inheritance, this Christlike father did all that he could to persuade his son not to go and squander it. He wanted his son to stay, to be happy and to succeed. But this father came to a point where he knew his son’s mind had been set. His son had a legal right to his inheritance and ultimately he would not stop his son.

Similarly, I believe our Heavenly Father tries to warn us. He has given us the scriptures, our leaders, our families and friends, and the companionship of the Holy Ghost. But He is also a God who allows us to make our own choices, no matter how wrong they may be. And when we come and say, ''I want this—I want what’s mine'' God allows it because he loves us and values our agency so much.

I’m not trying to say that as fathers we should give into every request we receive from our children, because that’s certainly not the case. But what I am trying to say is that like our Heavenly Father, once we have done all that we can to teach and raise our children in righteousness, once the time is right, we must allow them to make their own choices, just as our Heavenly Father does for us.

In the parable, the younger son took his inheritance and went off to a distant country and quickly squandered it all in riotous living (possibly at the Caesar’s Palace of his time). After he had wasted his living, he had nothing left. He had lost everything, there was a famine in the country, and he was forced to become a servant. Not only that, but he became a servant with a terrible job—he was responsible for feeding the pigs. As described by Pastor Henry, here was “a Jewish boy who was forbidden to even taste of it and here he was serving the pigs, eating what they ate.”

As we know, eventually this son came to his senses and decided to come home, realizing to himself that “the hired servants of my father have bread enough to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants…and he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”
The Prodigal Son, by Clark Kelley Price
Notice that in addition to being an approachable and consenting father, he was also an awaiting father. The father wasn't back at home watching the NBA finals. As described by Pastor Henry, “I don't know how long that boy had been gone, but the father was still looking down that road to see when the penitent prodigal was going to come home. Suddenly he saw that figure coming. The clothes were not the same ones he went off with, his face had the lines of sin upon it, but he knew that walk anywhere. That was his boy! What did the father do-? Did he say: ‘I'm just going to sit here on the porch and when he comes home, I'm going to say, ''All right -- you see there. You got what you deserved.’” No. This father didn't do that. He ran down the road running to meet his son.

Notice now that this Christlike father is a forgiving father. His son began to say “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” But the father instead said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” A Christlike father is able to forgive the mistakes of the past.

One final lesson I learned from this parable relates to the interaction this father had with his older, more faithful son after his younger brother returned home. Verse 25 reads: Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And the servant said, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And the elder son was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. And his father said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.

About this interaction, Elder Holland has said: “The father in this story does not compare his sons with each other. His gestures of compassion toward one do not require a withdrawal or denial of love for the other. He is divinely generous to both of these sons. Toward both of his children he extends charity.”
By making a conscious effort to become a more Christlike father, our priorities will change, our tempers will mellow, and our love will grow. He is our greatest example, yet He never took credit, saying instead, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for whatsoever things he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.”

Regarding fatherhood, I think it is also important to acknowledge that not all families are blessed to have a father in the home. Elder Christoffersonsaid, “Whether due to death, abandonment, or divorce some children don’t have fathers living with them. Some may have fathers who are physically present but emotionally absent or in other ways inattentive or nonsupportive.”

He commented on the other hand, that “some men are single fathers, foster fathers, or stepfathers. Many of them strive mightily and do their very best in an often difficult role. We honor those who do all that can be done in love, patience, and self-sacrifice to meet individual and family needs. It should be noted that God Himself entrusted His Only Begotten Son to a foster father. Surely some of the credit goes to Joseph for the fact that as Jesus grew, He ‘increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.’”

For me personally, becoming a father has been the greatest blessing in the world. After seven years of trying to have children, Diane and I were blessed with our daughter. I am so thankful for Diane. She never gave up on having a family and she is a wonderful mother. Our little girl is the light of my life and I eagerly look forward to “Dadderday” each weekend when we get to spend the day together. I never thought I could love someone as much as I love her. I hope it gives me a slight glimpse into the way our Heavenly Father feels about each of us.


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