Summary: Here are three different habits that you as a dad can do and bestow upon your children.

Twenty-six hundred years ago in the year 640 BC, there was a new king over all of Israel. He was eight years old. His name was Josiah. This is a young man who had to grow into his role over time. But God put him there for a reason.

His family tree had not been filled with spiritual models for him to follow. Josiah’s dad, Amon, was an idolater. Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh, was an idolater. Let me explain. There were so many false gods that idol worship ran rampant, and all of Josiah’s ancestors seemed to buy into this methodology as opposed to worshipping the one true God, which was the Jewish belief, of course.

There were many gods. There was Molech. Molech was a fertility god in which moms would bring their newborn babies to his altar and would burn them alive. And Josiah’s father and granddad approved of this and they actually encouraged it.

Another false god they worshipped was Asherah. You may have heard us talk in times past in sermons about the Asherah poles which were used in a very seductive and perverted form of worship, and they were all over the high hills of Jerusalem and even inside of the temple on Mount Moriah. The people had strayed so far from adoring and worshipping God that instead their worship had taken on a self-focus and indulgent pleasures rather than centering upon the one true God.

Now all of us can relate to Josiah, because either we had a father like Josiah had who wasn’t walking with the Lord, or perhaps we can relate to him because of the simple fact that we are living in a culture that is much like the culture that Josiah lived in—only his was far worse than ours.

And while we may live in a culture where we praise the wrong things, Josiah set out to break the dysfunctional cycle of what he had experienced. Second Kings 22:2 says this: “He (speaking of Josiah) did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.”

Now we know that David was not Josiah’s real father, but rather it was one of his forefathers. And David’s reputation as a Godly leader was an inspiration to Godly Jews for decades and centuries to come.

But here’s what I want you to see: Josiah chose to break the cycle.

Maybe you didn’t have the greatest dad. Maybe you don’t feel like you are the greatest dad. We all can relate. But you hold within you the ability to change things. Your dad may’ve been abusive. He may’ve been arrogant. He may’ve been condescending in his talks with you. He may have had no walk with the Lord. But you can change things. Will you start a healthy cycle? Or if you had a legacy of love given to you from your parents, will you continue that cycle?

The parallel of seeing God as a father makes a lot of sense to many people, especially if they had a spiritual, loving father. But for those of you who were not close to your dad, it becomes very difficult when you hear us say that God is your Heavenly Father. In fact, it becomes a stretch at best for you.

Sometimes I hear people say to me as Father’s Day is approaching, “Why do preachers on Mother’s Day give a soft and fluffy sermon but on Father’s Day they beat up on the dads?” Well, let me just say to you, that is not my goal. My goal is not to beat up dads. But I will say this: Men tend to respond better to a challenge. So hopefully at the end of this message you will feel both challenged and also encouraged, fathers.

And I want to talk simply about three different habits that you as a dad can do and bestow upon your children. And let me tell you what they are from the outset so you know where I’m going: affirming words, active involvement and spiritual leadership.

We’ll start with affirming words. Bill Glass leads a national ministry to those who are in prison, to inmates. And Bill talks about going to a large prison facility, speaking to hundreds…nearly a thousand different inmates at one time…and he looked out at them and said, “I’ve got a question for you. How many of you heard one of your parents say to you time and time again, ‘One of these days you’re gonna end up in prison’?” And Bill Glass said that nearly every inmate raised his hand.

There is power in your words. Words are important. That’s why some of you need to decide that you’re gonna break the cycle. You can choose to tear down with your words, or you can choose to lift up with your words. And your kids know which one your more natural bent is toward.

Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” So we’re called to speak encouraging words – words that heal, words that strengthen – rather than negative words which wound and discourage.

When my daughter Sadie was four years old, she had been disciplined by me for something that she had done wrong, and through her tears she looked at me and she said, “You are the meanest daddy in the entire world.” My other daughter, her older sister Savannah who was seven at the time, intervened on my behalf and she said, “Sadie, you shouldn’t say that. Instead of saying he’s the meanest daddy in the whole world, you should say he’s the meanest daddy in America.” (Laughter) Appreciate her sticking up for me, all right?

Christian author John Eldredge says it like this: “Your son or daughter, no matter how old, will always want and need to hear these words from you: You have what it takes; you are worth fighting for.”

That’s what your kids need to hear from you, parents. And your positive comments and attitude help to shape your children’s self-esteem…so affirm them. Dads, let your daughter know that you think she’s beautiful, you think she’s smart, that she’s talented. Dads, let your sons know that you think they’re capable, that they can accomplish anything. Catch your son doing something right and commend him in front of others. Give them affirming words.

But the second habit that dads can give is that of active involvement. Now I struggle in this area, and it’s not because I don’t want to be actively involved with my kids; it’s just because I get pulled in a lot of different directions. And you can probably relate to that as well. And as a result of that, because of my job and because of just my personality, I at times will give my children the leftovers instead of the quality time that they need and deserve. I think that we underestimate the impact that active involvement can have on our kids.

Becky seemed to work more diligently on her family picture than any of her other kindergarten classmates. She wanted it to be just perfect. After all, this was going to be imprinted on a plate, taken home and cherished forever. So with the precision and focus of a surgeon, Becky carefully drew a picture of herself beside her mom and the family dog. She went to such detail that she even drew the little baby that was inside of her mom’s belly. And in Becky’s mind the picture was complete. Her mom, herself and her dog. And the drawing was soon etched onto a plate and Becky proudly took it home. There was just one problem. Becky’s mom wasn’t divorced, and Becky’s mom wasn’t a single mom. Her father told me…, “But that’s how she saw our family. I was working so many hours that I wasn’t even in the picture.” And some twenty-five years later, he still has that plate. They have a great relationship because that plate was a turning point in his parenting, and it serves as a reminder that dads need to be intentional about being involved in the lives of their children.

All fathers and mothers want to be in the picture, but the truth be known, we’re just not really sure how to go about it. And Satan the deceiver paralyzes parents by saying, “Your children will just naturally grow up to love the Lord. I mean, they don’t want nor do they need your involvement.” And that is a lie straight from the pit of Hell. Your children desperately need you. They need your involvement. They need your encouragement.

Paul Harvey always said, “A parent spells love T-I-M-E.” And you might say, “Well, I want to do something but I don’t really know where to start.” Well, several weeks ago I preached a sermon inside a van…a hippy van as many of you pointed out to me…and I talked about three different settings where you can really begin: That is mealtime, travel time and bedtime. Those are times where you can pour into your kids.

We have several opportunities in the coming months here at church. In your bulletin this weekend there’s an insert that is promoting our Man Skills Program. It’s an interactive, monthly study relating spiritual truths to practical skills. Man Skills is designed for fathers and their sons who are between the ages of fifth and tenth grade. And you may have looked at the list in here. They’ve got all sorts of things that they will help to teach you: how to tie knots, how to build shelter, emergency survival kits—all sorts of different things. You can check that out.

They also have something called the Manhood Journey. It’s a six-week small group program for young men ages eight to fifteen and their fathers. We love it when dads and sons study God’s Word together. And during each six-week module you’ll meet with other sons and fathers to discuss and explore the truth of God’s Word. In Manhood Journey men will provide guidance to help their sons and young men to understand biblical manhood through a series of lessons prepared by men who have actually navigated through this path quite well.

You know, our second strategy we have listed as a church simply says this: As a church we want to build spiritually healthy homes by equipping Godly men to lead and to pray for their families. And we’re committed to that.

You see, God is the ultimate parent, and He fleshes out for us all the different things that we’re trying to teach and do as parents. God is always available. He makes time for us.

I love that passage in Matthew 11:28-30 where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

If you need to talk, He’s ready to listen. If you need a shoulder, He will offer you His.

Dads, let me ask you a question. What would your kids say is the most important thing to you? Whether they’re fifteen or whether they’re fifty, what would your kids say is the most important thing to you? Is it your golf clubs? Is it your job? Is it your faith? Is it your house? Is it your boat? Is it your hunting rifle? Is it your personal relationship with Jesus Christ? What would your kids say?

When my kids started driving a few years ago, I felt prompted to assure them that they were more important than the car itself. And you kind of hope that they know that, but a little reinforcement couldn’t hurt. Especially during that first year as a teenager, when they’re driving they nervously sweat and they strangle that steering wheel. And they’re nervous and you know that sometimes accidents happen. So what I did was I wrote out a note and I put it in the glove compartment; and I paper clipped it to the car’s registration and the insurance card. And this is what I wrote: I said, “If you have found this document, it means either a police officer has pulled you over or you have been in an accident. First, I hope you are okay and that no one was hurt. But I also hope that you hear my voice saying to you that you are more important to me than any car. Cars can be painted and fixed; sometimes people can’t. I love you and I hope you are okay. Give me a call when the cop leaves so that I will know that you are okay. Love, Dad.” Then I put “P.S. If you were speeding, I hope you learned your lesson. Never forget the beating of your heart when you saw the flashing lights in your rearview mirror.” Because I’ve been told that people’s hearts beat faster. (Laughter) That’s what Kyle (SCC Teaching Pastor) says. (More laughter)

Now while that letter may seem kind of sappy or hokey, in that tense moment it won’t seem that way. And it’s a letter that I wrote just to try to communicate, “I want to be involved in your life, and you are more important than anything, any possession, any title that I wear.” And a parent who writes that letter is trying somehow to convey and say in a crude fashion, “I love you. That’s why I wrote that.” So, dads, make certain that you are in the picture.

The third area I want you to see is that of spiritual leadership. And this is one of the most important, but it’s also one of the more difficult ones, because we just don’t feel like we measure up to spiritually lead. Yet that is what God has called us to do: to be a source of spiritual encouragement, to breathe a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit into the ears and into the hearts of our children.

So there are four ways I think that you can spiritually lead. One is to teach respect. While teaching respect, it comes back to the heart of discipline. You know, there are a lot of things that you need to teach your children when it comes to respect. They need to respect those who are older than them. They need to respect their peers. They need to respect parents and submit to their authority—even when at times they don’t feel like it’s right.

You know, the Bible says in Ephesians chapter 6, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” So if the teaching that they are sharing with you is “in the Lord,” as difficult as it might be, you need to swallow and you need to obey. And you need to pray and say, “Lord, You’re gonna have to help to give me the strength to do this.” But parents, your job is to teach them respect. Teach them that respect is the heartbeat of relationships—mutual respect.

The second habit you need to teach them is to model grace for them. And parents, I don’t need to tell you, you will have an ample number of opportunities to show grace to your children. My parents would say that we gave them countless opportunities to extend grace.

One of my favorite stories happened when I was back in high school. Some of you who have been here for a long time heard me share this several years ago. My family lived in Cincinnati at the time. My parents went on an out-of-town trip with another couple for two and a half days. My dad at the time was the Dean of Cincinnati Christian University, and he didn’t trust his own sons. Can you imagine that? An eighteen year old and a fifteen year old… He said, “You know what? Rather than you all staying at home, I want you to stay down at the college campus. That way there will be a curfew. That way we’ll be able to tell exactly where you are, and I can have some people kind of keep an eye on you.” We said, “Well, that’s fine. Yeah, put us in the college campus in the dorm room. That’s great.” But my parents… When they left to go out of town with this other couple, they made one tactical error. And do you know what they did? As they left and drove off, they left both sets of car keys with my eighteen-year-old brother. Now, as I said, I was fifteen at the time. Once Mom and Dad left, my older brother came to me and he said, “Dave, you’ve been a relatively decent brother.” He pulled out the car keys to the Blue Beauty, a 1969 Dodge┬« Dart—a chick magnet, if you will. (Laughter) He said, “If you’d like to take it out for a spin sometime today… Perhaps you can just kind of make certain that it’s running well.” I said, “Dude, you are the best brother who ever walked the earth.” And so I did take it out for a spin for the entire day—all around that college campus. Every time I would see a secretary walk out of a building, I would call her by name and say, “Where are you going?” She said, “I’m going across campus.” “Do you need a ride?” “Well, okay.” And she’d get in the car, and I would drive her across the campus. It would do wonders for her prayer life. I’d get to the other side and she’d say, “Yeah, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” “Okay, I’ll drive you back.” I ran a shuttle service for lonely secretaries all day long for two solid days. When each secretary got out of my car I would say, “Don’t tell anyone. This is our secret. Please don’t tell anyone.” “Oh, don’t worry, Dave. We won’t tell anybody. We won’t tell anyone.” Well, my dad came back into town. Everything was fine the first day. Everything was fine the second day. But the third day when he walked in from work, he said, “Boys, I want to see you in my study.” And we went in the study. He slammed the door. He started pacing back and forth. It wasn’t that big of a study. (Laughter) Finally he looked at us and with fire in his eyes he said, “Is there anything that you boys want to tell me?” Well, they had been gone for nearly three days. We had done a lot of different things. (Laughter) And my brother and I always lived by a simple principle. Never confess to a felony if he only has you for a misdemeanor. (More laughter) And so I said, “No, we have nothing to declare.” And my father, being a preacher, immediately began to spout off an impromptu parable. “A certain father went on a journey with his wife…” OH NO! “He entrusted two sets of car keys to his older son, who in turn entrusted one set of car keys to his younger brother, who was fifteen years of age and did not have his driver’s license. The boy proceeded to drive all over the campus of Cincinnati Christian University. What should happen to these two boys?” Dead silence. (Laughter) He said it again: “What should happen to these two boys?” Finally I broke the silence and said, “As surely as the Lord lives, the older brother must die.” (Laughter) My dad did not think it was that funny. (More laughter) And nearly three weeks later when I turned sixteen, my dad looked at me and said, “Hey, Happy Birthday. But you’re gonna have to wait awhile to get your driver’s license.” Oh…that was torture to a sixteen year old. But sometime later he relented…last year. (Laughter) No, he came to me several days later, and he just looked at me and he said, “Have you learned your lesson?” I said, “Yes, sir. I have.” And he said, “Let’s go get your license.” And he showed grace.

Sometimes spiritual leadership is shown through grace rather than through force. Tyler Edwards writes, “A man who believes he has to raise his voice to a woman in order to feel like a man is not one. A man who believes he has to raise his hand to another person to feel like a man is not one. One of the primary differences between being just a male and being a man is your ego.”

Let’s look at another way that you can spiritually lead and that is to share your faith. This only comes from your personal walk with the Lord. You cannot lead your children where you have not been.

How many of you watched Nik Wallenda walk across the tightrope across Niagara Falls? Put your hands up. That was incredible! I watched several minutes of it. I was sweating and nervous for the guy. And he’s doing a live interview the whole time that he walks across. I think the bar that he carried was forty pounds. He goes across Niagara Falls. Four football fields was the length. He prayed the whole time he’s walking. He’s praising God all throughout. His wife and his three kids were there watching as he walked through this thick mist that had to feel more like being rained upon on a two-inch wire. And after he completed it… (He got done so early that the network had more time than they thought they were gonna have.) so they had to continue to interview him. Every line, every question they asked him, he kept talking about the Lord. He kept giving God the praise and glory. He kept tying it in with his family. He talked about Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And I love the tweet that someone tweeted the next day. “Who was more nervous last night? Nik Wallenda over Niagara or ABC executives over his live, commercial-free talk about Jesus?” (Laughter and clapping) I love it! But here is a dad who is bold in his witness and unapologetic about his faith. And he provides an example for his kids.

And dads, when your children hear you praying before a meal or at bedtime, or when they see your Bible right there beside your nightstand or on your office desk, it communicates something—whether your children are young or they’re old.

Well, the final way to show spiritual leadership is to protect your family. That’s one of the things that you try to do as a dad. You try to spiritually protect your family from outside forces. And it’s impossible for us to do on our own. It has to have the intervention of God.

I came across something last night that James Dobson used to do. He used to take his kids to a window in their house and just say, “Look outside there.” And this is what he would say: “Out there the world can be a rough and cruel place, but here in this home this is a safe place that we can all count on no matter what.” And so as family you lean on one another. As family you help one another.

And for the single moms who are here today, let me just say to you that one of my favorite verses is found in Psalm 68 where God is described as “a father to the fatherless.” So God will make up that difference. And God oftentimes will use other men and other Christians in order to help fill in some of those gaps.

You know, when it comes to being a protector in our family, we realize that God is a protector. Love protects what it loves.

You’ve heard us talk before about how baptism is all about identification with Christ. Rick just talked about it in the baptistery. As people were baptized he said, “You are identifying with Jesus. You are publicly saying, ‘Lord, I am on Your side. I am on Your team.’” And when Jesus Christ was baptized it wasn’t because He was sinful. He was baptized to set an example for us.

And I want us just to briefly wrap up by looking at this passage in Matthew chapter 3. You’re familiar with what takes place in Matthew chapter 3. Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist. And then in verse 16 it says, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened…” I cannot imagine just seeing this scene. “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”

Simon Mbevi, a Christian leader and friend of mine from the nation of Kenya talks about this passage in Matthew, chapter 3. When he teaches about Christ’s baptism he says this: “Every time I read this, it is a perfect picture of fatherhood.” He said, “Do you see what God the Father is doing and what He is passing onto His kids? It’s the very same thing that every dad…every Christian dad…must pass onto their kids.”

The first line that God the Father says is, “This is my son.” So what He is communicating is, “This one is Mine. Jesus belongs to Me. I am responsible for Him. You touch Him; you touch Me.” And it’s the same with us. That’s the way, as a father, we must communicate to our kids. “This one is mine.”

Secondly He communicates, “This one I love.” He says, “Whom I love.” He doesn’t love you for what you are; He loves you for who you are. Can you imagine God’s voice breaking through the clouds, putting His stamp of approval upon this child and saying, “This is My Son whom I love. This Son has accepted My love”?

There are a lot of dads who love their kids, but their kids don’t accept the love. You can tell it because they’re not obedient or because they don’t honor what their dad tries to convey to them. It’s a two-way street. And God is saying, “This One I love, and this One loves Me, too. He loves Me back. He submits to My will.”

The third thing is, “This One I’m proud of.” “In whom I am well pleased.” Pleased with the way you have turned out. Pleased with the way you are making wise, God-honoring decisions.

Dads, when Jesus was baptized, our Heavenly Father gave us an example. He shows the three things that our children must sense from us. Look at them. The first one is belonging; the second one is love, and the third one is pride. “That’s my boy. That’s my daughter.” And that’s how a father imparts his identity to his son.

Dads, do you realize that you get to carry the same title that God gets to carry? You are a father. He is the Heavenly Father; you are an earthly father. But we strive to model the way we love our children after the way God loves us. You are loved by a Heavenly Father. He allows us to be called “fathers,” too. Since we were made in His image, He longs for us and wants us to be in a right relationship with Him.

We want to honor dads today. So if you are a father, would you stand up so that we can recognize you? (Fathers standing up throughout auditorium; Audience applauding) Just remain standing. Well, we’ve got a lot of dads in this hour. That’s great.

Someone defined a dad as “a man who has pictures of his children in his wallet where money used to be.” (Laughter) It’s pretty true.

But we have been blessed with a lot of Godly men in this church, and they have been entrusted a lot because of the fact that God has blessed them with children. I’d like to pray for them and I would just ask, if you are a family member or a loved one that’s by them, if you would just reach up and grab their hand through this prayer. Let’s pray together.

Father, will You bless these men? Will You guide them to be great role models and loving to their children? Will You help them to be a father like You are? Give them grace and patience to handle situations in a loving way. Will You take care of these men? You know, I know as a dad we like to come across as brave and protective, but there are plenty of times when we’re frightened ourselves. So I pray that You’ll give us courage. And when money runs low and when we need things, or our heart is broken or life is difficult, will You help every father in this room to turn to You rather than to try to do it on their own? Lord, today may we let our dads know just how much we love them. It’s in the powerful name of Jesus that we pray. Amen.

And if everyone would just stand… You know, I love the story of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal Son paints a picture for us of what God the Father is like. And it was undignified for a Jewish man to run in public. That was just beneath them. And yet what happens in the Scriptures in Luke 15…when the story that plays out as the father representing God the Father…we see that when a child has left the fold and has run away from God, God is waiting there for them to return with open arms and runs to meet them. And maybe that’s you today, and maybe you need to step out in faith. It’s something that we just say—and you’ve heard it week in and week out—but maybe it’s just for you today. And you need to respond—whether it’s publicly or privately—and say, “Today is the day.” If you’d like to talk to someone about your relationship with the Lord, or if you would like to commit to being a part of Southeast Christian, or if you would just like to be in a right relationship with your father…your Heavenly Father…then we invite you to make a decision as we sing together.

Unless otherwise noted: "Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. 2012, Southeast Christian Church of Jefferson County, Kentucky, Inc. Provided by license agreement for non-commercial use by authorized users only.

Accompanying Resources for the series by Dave Stone:

Raising Your Kids to Love the Lord (2012 Dave Stone, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Building Family Ties with Faith, Love & Laugher (2012 Dave Stone, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World (2013 Dave Stone, Thomas Nelson Publishers);