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"Fathering with Control and Compassion"

Father's Day June 16/13 Lk.7:1-17


Erma Bombeck composed the following short piece which, while entirely devoid of any Biblical basis, fits well with Father's Day and steers us into our topic. Listen for the tension between strength and supportiveness. It's called When God Created Fathers (from Forever, Erma).


When the good Lord was creating fathers, He started with a tall frame.

A female angel nearby said, "What kind of father is that? If you're going to make children so close to the ground, why have you put fathers up so high? He won't be able to shoot marbles without kneeling, tuck a child in bed without bending or even kiss a child without a lot of stooping."

And God smiled and said, "Yes, but if I make him child-size, who would children have to look up to?"

And when God made a father's hands, they were large and sinewy.

The angel shook her head sadly and said, "Large hands are clumsy. They can't manage diaper pins, small buttons, rubber bands on ponytails or even remove splinters caused by baseball bats."

And God smiled and said, "I know, but they're large enough to hold everything a small boy empties from his pockets at the end of a day, yet small enough to cup a child's face."

And then God molded long, slim legs and broad shoulders.

The angel nearly had a heart attack. "Boy, this is the end of the week, all right," she clucked. "Do you realize you just made a father without a lap? How is he going to pull a child close to him without the kid falling between his legs?"

And God smiled and said, "A mother needs a lap. A father needs strong shoulders to pull a sled, balance a boy on a bicycle or hold a sleepy head on the way home from the circus."

God was in the middle of creating two of the largest feet anyone had ever seen when the angel could contain herself no longer. "That's not fair.Do you honestly think those large boats are going to dig out of bed early in the morning when the baby cries? Or walk through a small birthday party without crushing at least three of the guests?"

And God smiled and said, "They'll work.You'll see.They'll support a small child who wants to ride a horse to Banbury Cross or scare off mice at the summer cabin or display shoes that will be a challenge to fill."

God worked throughout the night, giving the father few words but a firm, authoritative voice and eyes that saw everything but remained calm and tolerant.

Finally, almost as an afterthought, He added tears. Then He turned to the angel and said, "Now, are you satisfied that he can love as much as a mother?"

The angel shutteth up.


Even if God had gotten it exactly right (as in Erma's apocryphal tale), we as dads have been getting it wrong ever since. It's hard to consistently hit the right balance of strength and gentleness, toughness and supportiveness. In Luke's account we see Jesus interacting with one man (perhaps a father) who gets it right when it comes to faith and caring; and in Jesus' dealing with a bereft widow, we glimpse a depth of power and compassion in Him that reflects our Heavenly Father.


In Luke 7:1-10 we meet a Roman centurion, like a captain of 60-100 soldiers, who is an intriguing blend of leadership and loving. V2 "a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die." Hold on a minute - "whom his master valued highly": who, in that era, gets worked up over a sick SLAVE? (Doulos) Note the circles of caring emanating out from the centurion, and respect that's reciprocated: v2 his inner household, his slave; v3 he sent the elders of the Jews with a request of Jesus - now that's peculiar, the Jews normally hated their Roman occupiers / overlords; but these Jews "pleaded earnestly" (v4) on his behalf, saying he actually deserved to have Jesus' help, he was worthy of Jesus' aid. V5 "He loves our nation" - the centurion's support went beyond the local Jews to Yahweh's people in general, he'd actually built their local synagogue at his own expense. Now there's a project that takes some funding - imagine one person sponsoring a whole new church building! What else could he have done with that money? Bought and furnished a nice "summer villa" down by the shores of Lake Galilee? Doubled his staff of bondservants? But no, he underwrote the building of the synagogue instead. V6 introduces another circle of caring he's involved in: "the centurion sent FRIENDS..."

Even though we haven't met the centurion directly, we start to get a sense of how his network of caring has touched many people - his household servants, his friends, and the entire local Jewish community. Guys - what "circles" are you investing in, pledging time and resources to deepen and enrich relationships? The flyers for the Father's Day sales advertise ever-bigger TVs and stereos and smart electronic handhelds allowing us to "cocoon" ever more comfortably - but that's often not a relationally-healthy direction. Being the best video-game warrior isn't necessarily going to impact your community positively for God's glory.

The Roman centurion CARES; his compassion is also balanced by CONTROL. V8 he explains to Jesus: "For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes.I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." This guy knows how to delegate, how to give orders and manage people in a way that gets things done. I can almost picture a flowchart with various project schedules and deadlines on the wall behind his desk! Yet behind his simple summary of orders and obedience, of privilege and power, lays the accompanying burden or weight of responsibility: what happens when somebody DOESN'T obey? Our son-in-law has been managing a gas bar / food centre in Calgary, and not everybody shows up for work when they're supposed to! You need a system of discipline that's both effective and fair. And it's unfortunately part of the boss' job to rebuke and issue consequences to punish non-compliance and reward obedience.

The Romans took this very seriously. Recently we watched the 1960s epic movie "Spartacus" about a Greek slave who rebels in the early Roman empire. Once the revolt is crushed, hundreds of rebels are crucified. But the same discipline applied to military leaders: a Roman general whose laxity allowed a catastrophe is penalized by being refused food and water within 400 miles of the capital. Yet even here the discipline isn't arbitrary, but already codified in Roman law - it's fair because the person responsible was forewarned.

The Roman centurion here recognizes, honours, and respects Jesus' authority: note his humility in v6 "Lord, don't trouble Yourself, for I do not deserve to have You come under my roof." V7 "I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you." Then his next words really spotlight this authority issue: "BUT SAY THE WORD, and my servant will be healed.For I myself am a man under authority..." Perhaps he was familiar with the Genesis account of God merely SPEAKING creation into existence. He has a startling perceptiveness of God's means of potently acting. Jesus the "Author of Life" just had to say the word and healing would happen (Acts 3:15).

V9 tells us Jesus' reaction: "He was amazed at him" and said to the crowd, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." GREAT FAITH knows how to answer the question, "Which way's up?" Who's the chief authority in my life? Do I think I'm strong enough to 'play God'? If not, am I ready to humble myself, to get in under God's umbrella and align myself with what He wants, what pleases Him? When I recognize Him as Lord, His Servant Spirit in me helps keep me from 'lording it over' others.

God's pattern according to Scripture is for men to lovingly provide leadership in their homes, church, and society. In our PK Devotional for Fathers booklets, Laird Crump writes, "Every Man is a Pastor." He cites the late Pope John Paul insisting "the parents are to be the first preachers of the faith for their children by word and example." If Deut.6:4-9 were written today, Crump says it might go something like this: "talk about God with your children when: you are at home watching TV in the family room; when you are sitting around the dinner table; when you are driving to soccer...when you tuck them into bed at night.As 'pastor dad' it is your job to find all sorts of teachable moments throughout the day where you can talk to your family about who God is and what He is like."


Coming to the second part of our passage - it was a scene full of pathos that Jesus and the Twelve happened upon near the village of Nain. V12 "As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out-- the only son of his mother, and she was a widow." The Life Application Bible comments on her desperate straits: "This woman had already lost her husband, and here her only son was dead--her last means of support. The crowd of mourners would go home, and she would be left penniless and alone. The widow was probably past the age of childbearing and would not marry again. Unless a relative would come to her aid, her future was bleak. In the first century, it was very difficult for a woman to earn her own living. Without anyone to provide for the widow, she would be an easy prey for swindlers, and she would likely be reduced to begging for food." Kind of a "worst-case scenario", you might say! Easton notes, "the death of a widow's only son was the greatest misfortune conceivable."

What thoughts might be flitting through the widow's mind at a time like this? "What's going to become of me? How am I going to manage? Why did my only son have to die - I depended totally on him!" And, "Why's God letting this happen to me? Does God even care?"

What Jesus does next answers any doubts she may have had. He raises the dead man back to life, and gives him back to his mother. Thus Jesus is empowering / serving / resourcing the woman in need. Bystanders are filled with awe and respond in v16, "A great prophet has appeared among us...God has come to help his people." God DOES help, He 'looks after' those who are His. The Holy Spirit is our Paraclete, one called alongside to help in time of need (same root as "pleaded" in v4 - call on Him for help, that's what He's about!).

For you dads though I wanted to point out a little phrase in v13: "When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."" What was Jesus' gut-reaction when He saw her? "His HEART WENT OUT to her." Literally, "to be moved as to one's bowels, to be moved with compassion." Jesus' power to raise people from the dead was coupled with compassion. Good fathering involves control AND compassion. Problem is, some dads are on a power trip and their hearts are blocked, they can't respond emotionally to their family's needs. Counsellor John Regier identifies 12 "locked hearts" that make it difficult for people to show sympathy. A hostile locked heart; defiant / rebellion locked heart; neglected; self-focused; rejected; moral locked heart; intellectual; defiled; dominant; driven; spiritual locked heart; and enemy locked heart. In summary - they're aggressive and argumentative, viewed as harsh and cold, not able to trust in a relationship. Often they've experienced pain in their life and turn this pain inside, and can't let go of it except through anger and defiance. If you get too close to them they'll attack you with anger. People can't resolve anything with them. Children in a home like that feel unloved, and move away when they reach adulthood so they don't have to deal with them.

The solution? Repent, work through the steps to resolve bitterness and forgive those who've hurt you in the past. Deal with your tendency to be rebellious. Eventually healing occurs and they can start to express love without anger; the family will re-connect (kind of like Jesus giving the mother her son back).


W.Livingston Larned (in A Father Forgets) shares a piece in which we hear a father's heart break open as he looks back on how he'd been grumpy and unsympathetic toward his young son throughout the day. It's written as the father stands at the bedside of his son and thinks of the short-temperedness he needs to confess...


These are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you.I scolded you as you were crossing the street because you didn't look both ways before coming over to see me; I didn't like it, and told you so when you just gave your face a dab with the towel.I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes.I called angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.

At breakfast I found fault, too.You spilled things.You gulped down your food.You put your elbows on the table.You spread butter too thick on your bread.And as you started off to play, and I made for my bus, you turned and waved a hand and called, "Goodbye, Daddy," and I frowned and said in reply, "Hold your shoulders back."

Then it began all over again in the late afternoon.As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles.There were holes in your stockings.I humiliated you before your boy friends by marching you straight to the house ahead of me.Stockings were expensive--and if you had to buy them, you'd be more careful....

Do you remember later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door, and I snapped, "What do you want?"

You said nothing, just ran across in one tempestuous plunge, threw your anns around my neck and kissed me.And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.

Well, son, it was shortly afterward that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening feeling came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, or reprimanding.... It was not that I didn't love you; it was that I expected too much of you. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.

There's so much that is good and fine in your little character.It didn't matter what I said, you came in with a spontaneous burst of childish emotion, and rushed across the room to kiss me goodnight.Nothing else matters tonight, son.I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!...

Tomorrow, son, I'll be a real daddy.I'll be kind and thoughtful.I'll laugh when you laugh, and cry when you cry Don't worry about me, son.I'll remember how important you are, and I'll remember who you are...


Let's pray.