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Portrait of a Father
Why are effective fathers so vital to the health of our families and children? Why is it so difficult for men to be effective fathers? In this series, Chip paints the biblical portrait of a father as the leader, priest, teacher and lover of the home.More from this series
Men, have you ever awakened, in the middle of the night, with a cold sweat, with a knot right down in the pit of your stomach and it seems like life is suspended for that moment? And this horrifying thought comes to your mind. Are my kids getting from me, what they really need from their dad? One of those flashes of review where everything else seems to just fade away and that issue comes right before you.
When this happened to me, I found myself a few minutes later sitting in the living room. Small light, I still remember, and some shadows in the background. And I had to face the painful reality that I was going to way, way too fast.
That what I said was important was getting the backseat, and the urgent was getting the front seat.
Have you had that moment where you honestly come out of the denial long enough to sense relationships are fragmenting? It starts with your mate; you see it in the eyes of your kids.
You’ve told them and told yourself, “Well, it’s going to change soon. It’ll change.” And then you realize, you don’t know exactly how to get off the speed train. And if you got off you don’t know exactly what to do.
You know your kids, something deep in your gut tells you, your kids need a lot more from you than you’re giving them, but you don’t know what it is. And if you’re like me, you don’t know how to give it. At least I didn’t then.
It changed my life. It started me on a journey of trying to figure out, what in the world does a dad look like? What do my kids really need? What’s really important?
But to be very candid with you, it happens to men in different ways, but unfortunately, most men end up going back to sleep. They feel a disturbing event occurred and then they get up and they live that next day the way they lived the last day, and the last week, and the last month, and the last year.
But I believe, every now and then, God loves us so much as men and He loves our kids and our families so much that He’ll bring a tragedy or a sleepless night or some event to get our attention, so we don’t end up living our whole life with our ladder leaned against the wrong wall.
David Blankenhorn, in his book, Fatherless America, gives some evidence to why the stakes are so high, men. It says, “Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society. It is the engine that is driving our most urgent social problems from crime, to adolescent pregnancy, to the sexual abuse of children, and to domestic violence against women. Yet, despite its scale and it’s social consequences, fatherlessness is a problem that is frequently ignored.”
And so, I had the opportunity to write this big paper I told you about. I had to write a thesis and I was pretty tired, and I figured, you know what? Write on something that you’re motivated. You have a big need.
And I wrote it on the role and responsibility of the father in transmitting the values in the family. And you remember there were four key roles that the Bible evidences, backed up by the psychological and sociological research.
And that us as dads, we need to be the leader in our home. We need to be the priest in our home. And now we’re going to learn, we need to be the teacher and the lover.
But, men, we get a chance to break the cycle. We’ve got a chance to make a huge, huge difference.
And you don’t have to have it all together, and you don’t have to go and start some big new thing. You can take little baby steps and God will be so pleased if you would begin to initiate and lead in your home and begin to make sure worship occurs in your family’s life. You’ll never regret the day that you did it.
Let’s just go over these four roles and I’ll just highlight them quickly and then we’ll look at snapshots number three and number four.
One of the primary roles is, he’s a leader. We said, a definition of a leader: he makes things happen. That leaders ask pivotal questions like, where are we now as a family? Where do we need to go? And how are we going to get there?
Here’s what I heard from men. “I have never thought, it never dawned on me, to bring the same intensity, the same focus, the same strategic thinking to my family that I do to my job every day.”
And you know, a lot of guys told me, “I don’t know much about the Bible, to be candid. But you know what? I can do that. But I’ve got to turn that switch inside. I’m going to be the leader in my home.”
We learned that the focus of leaders is objectives. Where are you going to land? The how-to was: modeling, taking initiative, setting some direction, and ongoing evaluation.
And we said, the stewardship as a man is, we are morally responsible for our homes. And to be very honest, this is pretty foreign territory for some of us.
We grew up, and our parents grew up, and their parents grew up, in a generation where, if we went to work, got a paycheck, and there’s a roof over our family’s head, and we put
bread and butter on the table, most of us grew up thinking, that’s what a dad is. And that’s provision. And that’s part of it. But that’s not it.
Second thing we learned is that a father’s not only a leader, He’s a priest. He makes God known.
Remember? Moses went up and he heard from God. And he took what was true about God and he gave it to the people and then he said to the fathers, “You do that to your kids and to your grandkids.”
And then he took the needs of the people and he brought them to God. That’s what a priest does. Men, that’s what we do in our home. We have the privilege of revealing God to our kids and then taking their needs and their hurts and the things that we can’t handle, and taking them to God, and then watching Him work in them.
A dad who’s a priest says, over and over throughout the stages of his kids’ lives, “Do my kids know God? Do they have an accurate view of God? Does our home honor God? Are they, and am I, growing in holiness?”
We said that the focus of the priest is worship. And we said some how-tos. First, we have to model it, dads. We need to be authentic worshippers, privately and devotionally. And then we need to be the ones to say to the family, “Hey! Let’s get up Sunday morning, or Saturday night. We’re going to worship because it matters.”
And then we initiate family worship. You know, at least once or twice a week. And we make it short, we make it fun. But there’s time around the Bible, and time where we share hearts, and time where we care and pray.
And then you teach your kids how to worship on their own. The stewardship here, men, is we’re not only leaders but as priests, we’re the stewards of the spiritual climate of our home. That’s not your wife’s job. That’s not the church’s job. In my home, that’s my job. And in your home, that’s your job.
Well, where do we go from here? Snapshot three and snapshot four. Snapshot three, he’s a teacher. Definition: he imparts wisdom and builds character. That’s what a teacher does.
I want to get something out of your mind. Get the picture out of your mind of a teacher as in someone standing up, has a book in front of them, little people are lined up in rows, and the goal of a teacher is take information out of their head and put it in the heads of all these kids.
Many of us have grown up with a Western view of transmission of knowledge, where we think we open our kids’ heads, fill it full of a bunch of information, close it down, wind it shut, and someday they’ll figure out how to use that.
That is not what the Bible teaches about education. And by the way, that’s not a good education anywhere. You know what a teacher does? A teacher imparts wisdom.
The Hebrew word for “wisdom” really has more of the idea of skill. The book of Proverbs defines what it is.
Wisdom is understanding how life is created, life and relationships, and things to work. Then you know it and then after you know it, then you understand the “why” behind it. And then you have discernment about when and how to put it into practice, and then you teach your children to live life according to God’s pattern so that it protects them and brings His “shalom,” His blessing and glory to Him.
That’s what you want to transmit. The wisdom of God. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.
But beyond that, you don’t want just them to know what’s right. Or to learn a few skills. You want them to have character.
And so, a teacher’s job is to build values, and principles, and convictions, and loyalty, and integrity, so that when they hit transitional years, they make decisions on their own in their peer group to say, “I’m not going that direction. I’m going this direction. Not because of my parents but because of what God has done in my life.”
See, you want to impart wisdom, and you want to build character. The classic New Testament passage: Ephesians 6:4. And notice, who’s it addressed to? Mothers? No. Parents? No. “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children” is the idea. Or don’t frustrate your children. Or don’t cause them to get angry. That’s the negative side of this command.
“But rather, bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Notice there’s a negative and a positive command.
The negative is, don’t frustrate them. Men, we’re to be the primary teachers. Will our wives, and Sunday school teachers, and youth group leaders, help us? Yeah. But we’re the primary people responsible. And so, he says, be careful because as men, we can frustrate or get our kids angry.
The ways that I’ve done it – you want to know how not to do it? – is be very perfectionistic. That produces anger. Be harsh. Be passive. Or no matter what they do, find fault.
I’ve done all those. And when I do it, my kids get mad. And they don’t want to hear from me. And they don’t want to embrace my values.
When we’re harsh, perfectionistic, or passive, as men, we stir up anger in our kids. But he says, don’t do that but instead, what? Hey. Bring them up. It’s a very broad word.
To bring up, the word was used in the classical Greek to mean nourishment, even physical nourishment, mental nourishment. It had this broad, broad view of the total development or nurture of a child.
And so, we’re to bring up, the educational environment. We’re to bring them up with two things in mind. The how-to, with the discipline and admonition.
The word “discipline,” King James translates it, I think in Ephesians 5 toward the end, as “nourishment” and then in Hebrews 12, the same word is translated as “chastisement.” Very broad range.
The idea is, whatever it takes for your kids to learn, or be educated or to be trained in the things of God, that’s what you do. But the unique aspect of this word “discipline” or “training” has to do with, you do it by actions.
The instruction or another translation says “admonition,” the discipline and instruction, or discipline and admonition of the Lord, the idea there is you do it with words. And I think the word order is important.
When your kids are first learning, can they understand what you’re saying? How do you teach your kids when they’re real early, when they’re real small? When they do what’s right, they get reward. And when they do what’s wrong, they get consequences. It’s done lovingly and kindly.
And so, dads, our job is to lead our family in such a way so when our kids grow up, instead of talking, talking, talking, talking, explaining, explaining, explaining, explaining, yelling, yelling, yelling, yelling, screaming, screaming, screaming and your kids start to do this?
The goal is, early on, by way of your actions, they know what’s right, they know what’s wrong, they know what’s expected, they know that they’re loved.
And then the admonition is the words, the verbal words, to keep them on course. And so, dads, our job is to bring up our kids in a sphere of Christlikeness, in the Lord, whereby our actions and by our words we educate, imparting wisdom and building character.
Well, what’s the focus, then? The focus is wisdom and there are some questions to get you there.
As a teacher, what are the kind of questions you need to ask to be effective? The first one is ask yourself: what does your kid need to know, do, and be? Okay? What’s the knowledge that they need, what are the skills, the doing, and what do they need to be or become?
If you want a good way to put this together, this has been very helpful to me. Think about, I need to develop my child’s head, I need to develop my child’s hands, and I need to develop my child’s heart.
You get it? What do they need to know? Head. What skills do they need to learn in relationships? Skills with their finances. Skills about decision making. Skills about studying God’s Word. Hands, skills. Finally, their heart. Their character. Their motives. Their relationships.
See, as a teacher, don’t, don’t fall into the trap where you think if they get just the right knowledge, you’ve done your job.
See, the goal is not that they get to become smarter sinners like us. The goal is that they have a transformed life. The goal isn’t how much they get to know. The goal is, can they put it into practice in real life? That’s the goal. You want to make a Christ-like one, done in a very nurturing, loving environment.
The second question, then, is how do they best learn? See, the greatest danger is, you’ll have your first kid and they’ll be fairly compliant and whatever you do with them, you think that’s the way you ought to do it.
I’ve got news for you. They’re all different, aren’t they? I have four. God gave me a test case. I’m convinced part of it was to help you.
I’ve got two kids that were born within five minutes of each other and they were little, looked a lot alike.
I mean, they’re twins. Same family. Same environment. They learn completely differently.
I had one that, if he was the only child I had, you would be looking at the smartest and most intelligent, godly parent in the world. Right here, right here.
With my son, Eric, as he grew up, this is how I disciplined Eric. “Eric?” “Oh, sorry, Dad.” It’s done. I’m done!
And so I would tell other parents, “That’s how you do it.” Now, he had a brother. Out of the same womb! I didn’t take the proverbial two by four with his brother. I mean, that didn’t work a long time ago. It was the two by six.
And I could take, you know, metaphorically speaking, of course. And I could smash him across the face with, “Man! Son, what in the world are you doing? And here are all these consequences, and you’re grounded, yes, for the rest of your life!” And he’d put his hands on his hips and say, “Is that all you got?”
And so, as a teacher, you better find out how your kids learn, what kind of personalities they have, and what’s the most effective way to communicate?
The third question you need to ask is, when and how will you teach them in this season of their life? Let me give you a quick example. Let me run through this and maybe it’ll be helpful for some of you, maybe like me, didn’t grow up in a Christian home and I didn’t read the Bible until I was eighteen.
Each season is different. When my kids were small, see, what I’m talking about is, you have to have a structure and a game plan to educate them.
And so, when my kids were small, it was bedtime. Each bedtime, I put my kids to bed if I was home. Now, I’d fight over this now and then with Theresa, because she’d always want to get in on it. So, I said, “You get to be with them a lot more than me.”
And so, I read through storybooks. Storybooks of the Bible. And I’d get them real close to me, and then we’d shut the door and pile up the pillows, and we made it fun. It was outrageous and it was crazy.
But I wanted them to hear the content of God’s Word associated with their dad, my arm around them, cuddling up together, and I did that in the early years.
In the middle years, then, you shift. And the time, instead of bedtime, was around meals because by the middle years, even ten, eleven, twelve, early preteens and teens, I want my kids to meet with God on their own, before they go to bed.
And so, around meals, once or twice a week, read the Bible a little bit, talk a little bit. I tried a million different ways. None of them lasted more than three weeks to three months and then it didn’t work.
It’s a lot like business isn’t it? You know, whatever’s working now, three months from now, it’s not working. Why should it be any different with your family? Because they’re growing, they’re changing, the paradigm’s got to shift. And so, it was mealtime. That was the formal, instructional time.
And then as they’ve gotten older, you know, nineteen, twenty, I’ll give them a book. “I need a really good book. Give me a really good book. I mean, something to fire me up.”
You go out and you goof around and you talk about it. And around the table, a lot of our family times now, is, I just say, “Honey, what are you reading right now?” And she’ll share. Eric, how about you? Ryan, what’s going on with you?”
And, you know, yeah there are times where someone will say, you know, Dad, to be honest, it’s been a pretty bad week. I’ve not read a whole lot. “Oh, okay,” well, just move to the next one.
But it’s a loving, positive, nurturing environment where, of course everyone has their ups and downs but where you share life together.
And so, each season, you need to figure out: how am I going to communicate formally and informally the truth of God’s Word in a way were it gets into their heart and they apply it to their life?
And so, the focus is wisdom. And ask yourself. Some of you are, I hope you’re thinking, I need some curriculum. I mean, I need some curriculum. Where would I go? What should I teach them?
Are you ready for this? There’s a section of the Bible called the wisdom literature. Can you, do you have any idea what it might be for? Wisdom.
If you want to train your kids’ hands, skills in life: book of Proverbs. Take your kids through the book of Proverbs. It starts out, “Son, I want to teach you how to walk with God.” It’s all the skills about life. It starts – what? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
And then chapter after chapter after chapter, it talks about basic things like work, your tongue, sex, money, relationships, loans. It teaches your kids the skills of life.
But you don’t just want to do their hands. Then move as they get into preteen, actually teenage years to Ecclesiastes. Because you’ll want them to know when they’re finding their identity that it can’t be found in money, it can’t be found in education, it can’t be found in fame, it can’t be found in popularity.
Let them know there was someone that could do anything. The wisest, richest, most powerful man in the world named Solomon and he said, “When it’s all been said, when it’s all been done, if you don’t walk with God, everything’s vanity.” And you give them a Biblical worldview.
And then finally, you want to develop their heart. So the wisdom literature, get in the psalms. And you read and pray psalms out loud. You got a great curriculum there.
Because the focus of a teacher is to transmit wisdom. You do it how? One, by modeling, having a Word-centered life yourself.
Two, by those formal times of instruction, like we talked about. And then by informal times.
And by the way, I want to just for a second, think outside the box. Now, all of us would say, when your kids graduate from high school, you want them to be able to read, write, think, and be able to articulate ideas, right? And communicate verbally. We all want that.
And I fell into the trap of thinking that if the public schools are not doing a good job of that, and I know there’s, I mean, I’m a schoolteacher. My parents were schoolteachers. Been involved in public schools all my life.
But, you know, there’s been a slide. There are a lot of great teachers out there but there’s been a slide.
You know, I hope that they’ll help me but I’m not going to stand before God and say the name of such and such high school, how come they didn’t do a better job with my son. I realized that’s my job.
Now, if I get a lot of help and it gets done at the school. Great. If not, then I better do it. The senior year of my youngest boy, we did something. It was really cool.
And he wasn’t thinking real well. Wasn’t writing real well. And wasn’t articulating in a way that I thought was at the level was going to prepare him for the future.
And so, I said, you know something, son? School’s not very hard, and you don’t seem to do a whole lot of the work, and you don’t do much work and you still get good grades, and that doesn’t make sense to me. But since they’re not giving you a challenge, I will.
And he said, “What do you mean, Dad?” And so, we went through a book called Chafer’s Bible Themes. It takes all the great doctrines of the Bible – six, seven, eight, nine pages – gives a bunch of passages, then about eighteen to twenty questions.
And I said, “Read this, look up all the verses, answer the questions, and we’ll talk.” Well, I mean, he did it and he got into it. And we went through most of that book. And pretty soon, now, he’s writing papers for me. And turning them in. And I’d, “Ah, ah, need a little work here.” And I’d give them back to him, he’d…
Then we went to C.S. Lewis and we did Mere Christianity. He outlined every chapter of Mere Christianity and gave me the reasoning and the thought, the presuppositions and the apologetics, and then he started using them on his high school teachers. It was unfair.
And pretty soon, guess what, my son developed a love for theology, he learned how to write, and I actually made him, a couple times, give little mini messages. And I made him stand in the living room, wife and I sat down on the couch, I said, “Go, babe.”
“Aw, Dad, you’re kidding.” “I’m not kidding. I’m committed to you getting educated.” And he did it and got a little nervous and then pretty soon, he got pretty good.
See, let’s think outside the box, guys! What’s the goal? The goal isn’t, how can we get out of something. The goal is what we can put into our kids that years and years and years we’ll say, “Whoa! Boy am I glad I did that!”
And so you do it informally, you do it formally. And you do it at times where, not just by the way of those, but you do it at times where they have a failure. That’s called a teachable moment.
They break up. That’s called a teachable moment. I’ve had a time where I came back and one son had lovingly propelled another son into the wall in a way that did damage to the wall. That was a teachable moment.
We’re educators. We’re teachers. And so the stewardship as teachers, God’s calling, is to transfer godly wisdom to the next generation.
Now, this next little section is a Chip Ingramism. It is not from God. It is a personal conviction, but I felt prompted to say it. Okay?
So you ready? I made a decision early on, this was when, I grew up in the era, my kids were coming up when Nintendo just came out. I made a, here’s the decision I made. I would not have video games in my house. None of my kids would have a TV in their room. And that during school nights, we won’t watch TV.
See, my observation is, I watched the culture was most homes including born-again Christian homes are media-centered homes, they’re not Word-centered homes. Okay?
Now, am I saying that that’s from God and everyone ought to do that? Not at all. I’m saying it’s a personal conviction.
And my kids, “Aw, Dad, what’s the deal? What’s the…?” “You know what? Hey. If you want to go to those arcades and play it a couple times, fine.” But when a kid sits in front of a TV and watches something, I can tell you the research of what’s happening in their mind.
And when they’re a little bit bored and they can play around with something and two and half hours later, nothing has been accomplished, what they learn to do is burn time.
So, I have four children. They are, all four, voracious readers. Second, all four are musicians. Third, all four are initiators. And fourth, all four are communicators.
You know why? They got bored. They got bored. You know, in my house, you get your homework done, it’s eight o’clock, it’s eight fifteen. I mean, what do you do?
You’re not watching anything, you’re not playing any video games. You’re not going to a-muse yourself to death. “A” meaning “non.” “Muse” as in “think.”
See, we’ve got a world that is a-musing themselves to death – not thinking. So, you know, you get so bored… hey, you pick up the guitar. Go over, play the piano. Go work out. You ready? Read a book.
And amazing things happen. They learn to take initiative. They learn to think. They learn to be creative. Just a little thought. I’ll just leave that one with you. I’ll pass you right on. Are you ready?
Okay, dads, God’s got a great plan for your family. It starts with being a leader. Next is a priest. Third is the teacher or educator. And fourth, this is special. We’re to be a lover.
Definition of a lover is he gives people what they need most. Now, primarily, as you go through the Scriptures you find that that’s what God does. He’s an unconditional lover of our soul.
He gives us what we need most at great sacrifice. And so, what is it? It’s provision and protection. When you really think about love, that’s what you get. You get provision and you get protection.
You get material provision from your dad, spiritual provision from your dad, emotional provision from your dad, and relational provision from your dad.
See, love says, whatever they really need. If it’s a tender hug or being grounded. Done out of the same concern and motive, you give it to them. You care for them. You sacrificially, literally, give your life.
Interesting passage. Read with me Malachi 4, the very last two verses of the Old Testament. It says, “Behold, I’m going to send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord,” speaking of judgment.
“And he will restore the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.” Jesus told us that John the Baptist was the Elijah spoken of here. That he came to prepare the way of the Lord.
And one of the evidences is when people are living under kingdom rule, one of the primary evidences is when a culture, and when a home, are living the way God wants them to, you know what it is? It’s when there is an intimate, heart connection and concern from the father to the children and from the children back to the father.
The focus of a man is relationships. It’s hard to do that when you didn’t get it. But it can be learned. It can be learned. You just take little baby steps. It can be learned. It doesn’t mean it has to come natural.