Fathers: How Good Men Change The World
There is a special relationship between mother and child. (I know…kinda a weird way to start out a Father’s Day message. Just bear with me!)
Our mother is our first home. She’s the first source of nourishment and protection as we are in her womb. We are physically bonded with our mother in a symbiotic relationship. We cannot survive without our mother. Once we are born that bond is developed further through the intimate act of breastfeeding which connects mother and child physically, emotionally and even spiritually. I say this not so much because of research and study (though I have read plenty about it), but mostly because of experience of watching my children and my wife.
Honestly, it’s a connection that I have been jealous of. What special connection do I get as dad? I am not the womb. I cannot feed the child in the first critical months of his or her life. So I don’t get to share in the intimate bonds created through those acts.
What is special about being a dad? There are so many examples of how women are equal to men. So, as soon as I think about stereotypical acts of fathers, I realize that women can do those things as well.
- Fathers are protector. But so are women. Just try to take a mother’s child from her and you will see how much of a mother bear she can be!
- Father’s are providers. But this day and age women provide as much as men do in families.
- Father’s are disciplinarians. Joanie and I have always found that discipline is a team effort in parenting. We discipline best when we discipline together.
And this sort of thing is true no matter what traditional father role I examine. So what is unique about fathers? What is my special connection as dad?
Well, I have an idea. A pretty important one.
There is only one person in the world that has a womb connection with a child. And this means that every other person in the world the child meets will have a fundamentally different relationship with them when compared to their mother. And the first of those people to form this different kind of relationship with the child is me, the father.
As dad, I am first human being that my child regularly interacts with that is not mother. I am the first human being among every other human being in the world that the child will meet who does not have that womb connection. And so I am the first and primary person my children relates to that will become the basis for all of their other relationships. And even for father’s deployed overseas or who are not the literal first person to hold and caress the child, those father’s are still the most primary of relationships with their child out of all other people.
So all you dad’s out there, we have an incredible task before us. How our child interacts with people has more to do with us than anyone else in the world. We fathers have a responsibility like none other in nurturing a child into healthy relationships. Through the father-child relationship, we teach our kids how to manage emotions with other people, how to engage the world with love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control. Yeah, we as our relationship with our child embodies the fruit of the spirit, so the child will learn to embody those things in their relationships with other people.
Fathers we are the primary parent to form relationships with our children that will be the model for their relationships beyond the family. The mother relationship is different – to be sure unique and special and amazing. But the father relationship is foundational.
And I want to show you just how foundational it is. You may have read a blog article I wrote this week about Fathers. I mentioned a book by one of my favorite spiritual guides Richard Rohr: Adam’s Return – The Five Promises of Male Initiation. He talks about recognizing the importance of fathers in our growth and development. He talks specifically of recognizing the pivotal role of the father when working as a chaplain in the prison system:
“When I was a jail chaplain for 14 years the only thing almost all prisoners had in common was that none of them had good fathers.”
That is a pretty strong statement. Clearly it is based on observation. So no hard data behind it. But if this is true, then it tells us something about the father relationship. That it has a tremendous impact on our ability to live in positive relationships with people in our society.
So what does all this have to do with Shadrach Meshach and Abednego? (Read the story in Daniel 3 if you haven’t already)
Well, it is not a story about fathers per se. But it is a story about men and how men act in the world. So this story has a lot to do with being male in the world (and therefore by implication being father).
I want to boil the story down to two basic characters.
1. The first is that of the king. King Nebuchadnezzar is powerful and authoritative. In his mind he is the most powerful and the most authoritative of all humans. In fact, he believes no one but a god can challenge his power or authority.
2. Second, there are three Jewish men: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men do not recognize the king as the ultimate power and authority. They are unwilling to comply with a command that violates their faith. They speak up. And they challenge the king.
Now, things get interesting when we pay attention to how these men engage in relationship with one another.
The king gets angry. No, that doesn’t quite get it. The king gets furious. No that doesn’t even quite good at it. As the Common English Bible says, the king goes into a violent rage. That is the way the king acts.
And after Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego challenge him, he puts his violent rage into action. He Stokes the furnace to seven times hotter… seven here been symbolic for the most complete and hottest fire you’ve ever seen.
Then he has his men throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace. What happens? Well, the fire is so hot the kings men die just throwing the Jewish men into the fire. The kings rage is clearly out of control.
By contrast, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are calm, patient, and respectful even in their defiance. They state their truth. That is, they do not submit to the Kings orders no matter what. They bow only to true authority in the world. They stay true to their God and their faith trusting in all-powerful God to rescue them. And their defiance is so complete that even if God will not save them, they still will not obey the king.
On the surface, if you had never heard the story before, if you knew nothing about Israel’s God, you would think that the Jewish men are wrong for not obeying the king. The kings of course is right because kings are divinely appointed. Kings have been given power and authority. So, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are in the wrong because they refuse to obey the one who is rightfully in power. They deserve punishment.
But the story flips things upside down. The man who is the king acts out of control while the men who are the lowest of the lows act calmly and in complete control. Which of these act as men should act? The Jewish men, of course. And they are rewarded for their righteous behavior.
While Shadrach Meshach and Abednego defy the king, they act respectfully, appropriately, in control of themselves. You might say they embody the fruit of the spirit in this passage even in their defiance – love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
If ever there was a time for them to be out of control this is it! Their life is at stake. They are facing the death penalty. Yet God saves them.
I don’t know if Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had children. I can say this: they are model fathers. They are men who knew how to engage the world and their relationships following the way of God. They embody the ideals set so clearly for us through the life and witness of Jesus. They even give themselves sacrificially… never once considering taking another’s life to save their own or their people. In fact, they act in a way that models the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Think about how close their resurrection story is to Jesus resurrection story! Both defy the empire. Both experience the rage of people around them. Both submit themselves willingly and non-violently. Both experience the harshest of punishments. Neither death sentence is successful because both are rescued. Pretty similar, huh!
Men, we have an important role to play in the world around us. Whether we are biological fathers or fatherly figures to those around us, how we live in the world matters. Others are learning from us just as we learn from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The way we behave is foundational, particularly in a society in which we have so much power and authority as men.
We can act like King Nebuchadnezzar – full of anger and rage. We can remain calm, respectful and full of the fruit of the spirit like the three Jewish men who survive the furnace. We can act anywhere in between these extremes. But make no mistake, as men, as fathers, we have a unique role to play.
Our children depend on us from the moment they are born to create a positive, nurturing, loving relationship with them. You and I may not have a moment like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego where we literally change the world by changing the king’s mind, but we have an opportunity everyday to change the world by being good fathers:
- Fathers who act like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
- Fathers who act with love, peace patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control in both the ordinary things of life and the most extreme life threatening circumstances,
- Father’s who model God’s love and Grace and mercy and forgiveness even as we stand up for what is right
An Addendum: God bore us from God’s motherly womb. And God is also our father with whom we cultivate a foundational relationship that shows us how to live in the world. God – especially through Christ – shows us how to live in the world. This is part of what the creation story is about when it speaks of making us in God’s image and filling us with God’s presence. It is about a father cultivating a relationship with us through which God passes on to us his essence making us his image and filling us with his presence as a good father does with his child. This foundational relationship then empowers us to go out into the world treating others in the the same way.
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