Monday, June 16, 2008

A Chip Off The Old Block

One of the saddest songs which came out in the 70s was Harry Chapin’s Cat’s In The Cradle. It was a critique of fathers who were too busy for their own children. The sad justice of the song was a father who was always too busy to spend time with his son discovered his son as an adult became too busy to spend time with him.

Now the typical Fathers’ Day sermon would focus exclusively on failure of dads to spend time on their children. But that’s not the point I want you to notice. The point is in the constant refrain of the song: I’m gonna be like you dad, you know I’m gonna be like you. The last line in the song was and as I hung up the phone it occurred to me: he grown up just like me, my boy was just like me!

Whether we like it or not, we often become just like the people who raise us. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You swear up and down—“I’ll never act like mom! I’m not going to treat my children the way mom treated me!” Then you have kids and in a critical moment when you’ve come to your wits' end with your kids a scream, or phrase or tone of voice comes through your lips—or you catch a look you give your kids in the mirror. And what do you say? In horror you say—“Was that mom I just heard?!"

The truth is you often grow up to look and act like your parents. Of course as the father of two daughters that used to fill me with dread—especially when I realized how similar my children’s pictures looked like pictures of me as a child. All I could imagine were teenage girls running around with moustaches!

But that’s the nature of things. When you spend most of your life in the presence of certain people, you become like them. The biblical writers understood this. To describe someone as “the son” of someone was to imply that this person was a chip off the old block. If you were nick-named “the son of encouragement” it meant you were someone whose main characteristic was encouragement. If you were “sons of thunder” it might mean you were hot headed, violent, or rather impetuous.

We see this in the Sermon on the Mount and in a few other places in the Bible when Jesus talks of being sons of God or children of our father. The point is: if we are children of God—if God is our father, then it would be natural for us to become just like our father: a chip off the old block. The more we hang around God, the more we begin to develop his character and value systems within.

So what would we become if we were like our Father? If we were a “chip off the old block?”

According to Matthew 5:9 the peace makers will be identified as “sons of God.” Quite simply God is a god of reconciliation. Paul writes the Corinthians saying that God
reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
In other words, if bringing people together is of high value to God—then it should be of high value to us! It is his nature to seek to bring people together both to him and to each other. As children of God we cannot be satisfied to allow ourselves to be at odds with our brothers and sisters and with our neighbors. Jesus restates it in Matthew 5:43-48:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
What’s it mean to be a chip off the old block—to be like your Heavenly Father? It means you will be a person who places a high value on seeking reconciliation. You will place a high value on being merciful, treating people with love, kindness, and respect—regardless of how they treat you.

But there’s more to being like the Father than seeking reconciliation with others. The more I read the Bible, the clearer it becomes that God is a god who cares for the outcast, the helpless, the victim, the widow and the fatherless. Two passages stand out in my mind: Psalm 10:14, 17-18 and Psalm 68:5—but there are dozens more. Listen to these two passages:

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless…You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more (Psalm 10)...

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. (Psalm 68)

In the incredibly humorous and beautiful movie Martian Child John Cusak explains to his sister why he, a single man, wants to adopt a very difficult child. She tells him it’s tough being a parent, and sometimes kids suck the life right out of you. He responds,
I get all of the arguments against it. I even get the one that says ‘I don’t want to bring another kid into this world.’ But how do you argue with the logic of loving one that’s already here?
Sounds like something out of the very heart of God.

In the early 50s the Churches of Christ got embroiled in a silly argument about how should churches take care of orphans. Churches actually divided over the issue. The sad thing is both groups had it right and both groups had it wrong. One group said, “Don’t create institutions—we should be taking care of kids ourselves.” The other group said, “But we’re not bringing kids into our homes, we need to set up good Christian based institutions.” And eventually the problem emerged: one group did nothing to care for the fatherless while another group sent money to an institution thinking this was the only solution to the problem.

And then we forgot the hundreds of thousands of kids who are fatherless in America for whom these institutions are useless. They live in single parent households and very few are stepping into the gap to be a father-figure for them. Somehow, I think our Father in Heaven weeps when he sees our lack of response. Or when he hears Christians complain when the church begins to spend money and reach out to those kids over there.

That kind of attitude does not come from the God who is father to the fatherless. And the person who withholds his love to the fatherless and outcast demonstrates a different parentage.

That’s pretty strong, isn’t it Darryl? You tell me. What does James call pure and undefiled religion? Taking care of the fatherless and the widow in their distress. What does God say to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 27:19? Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow. If we are to be like our father in heaven, then we are to become fathers and defenders of those who are missing parents—whether it be kids in single parent families or actual orphans.

Today’s Fathers’ Day! So fathers I encourage you to model your life after your father in heaven. To all Christians I say the same. Be like your father in heaven. So when your life’s song is sung God will sing over you: He grown up just like me—my child is just like me! I can’t think of a better legacy than that.

So may you be like the Father. May you be a peace maker who lives a life of mercy: loving and forgiving even your enemies. May you be a person who loves on the helpless—who pleads their cause, who takes the fatherless under your wing. May you show the very heart of God. May you be a chip off of his block!

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