Father to the fatherless

Psalm 68:5, “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows–this is God, whose dwelling is holy.” “Father to the Fatherless”….what does that even mean? I’ve struggled with this concept most of my adult life. I spent a majority of my first 20 years of life chasing after what it takes to “become a man” and the last 19 trying to sort out what God expects out of my masculinity versus what the world expects out of it. At 39, I now stand back and think I have a better grasp on what it means to have a need to be fathered by God and an understanding of His willingness to father me. You see, my Dad failed, by and large, in his job of mentoring me and initiating me into masculinity. When I read stories of great men in the Bible I’m often left with a deep yearning and longing to see their attributes and fruit in my own life. I read about David and his battle against the Philistine’s dread champion, Goliath, and I am puzzled by what kind of courage it takes for a teenaged shepherd to decide he wants to fight anyone with the title “dread champion”. It seems so foreign to me because for a majority of my life I’ve felt incapable of conquering just little things. What did his Dad do differently than mine? Now, before I give anyone the wrong picture of my Dad, let me first say that he is an honorable and hardworking man that did his best. His father was an orphan and I’m sure he needed to be fathered by my grandfather just as much as I needed to be fathered by him. Unfortunately, you can’t give away what you were never given. My Dad’s experience, or lack thereof, became my own. My Dad did everything he could to perform his duties as the head of our house and to him that mostly meant work hard, work long hours, and make sure there was plenty in the bank to afford necessities as well as some neat stuff for us kids and my mother. Deep down all I wanted was hear that I was his prized son and that I was good enough. I wanted to hear him encourage me to tell me that I was doing great and could achieve greatness. I wanted him to want to spend time with me teaching me how to use his tools and teaching me about electronics and how things worked. I wanted him to come out and shoot baskets with me in the driveway or break out his mitt to have a catch with me. I saw these things happening with my friends around my neighborhood and it hurt me to see them happening everywhere except for at my house. But again, none of these things were ever done for him. So, where does this sort of lack of initiation leave a young man struggling to become something he knows to be better but has little or no experience with? For me, it led to many years of immaturity, insecurity, and self-doubt. I began to rely on my perseverance, sense of humor, and drive to try to find my way to manhood hoping to figure it out by simply gutting it out. As some of you know, this is rarely a great formula for anything outside of a good comedy film. Nevertheless, I worked hard in an attempt to “earn” my masculinity not realizing that God had long ago not only created my masculinity but also had a desire to reveal it in and through me. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn until I was in my 30’s that He was just waiting for me to see my own need and to ask Him to fill it. This begs the question, how does God really see me? To answer this question I return to David, a man after God’s own heart, as he defined in Acts 13:22. We gain keen insight into how God sees us by reading about how God sees David’s brother in 1 Samuel 16:7 when God says, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In short, God really sees both David and his brother, Eliab, and despite his brother having the appearance of a King, God reveals that David has the heart of one.  If God really sees who both David and Eliab really are then we can conclude that He also really sees me. We gain further insight from David into what God sees in Palsm 139 where we read: Psalm 139 (NLT) O Lord, you have examined my heart     and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up.     You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel     and when I rest at home.     You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say     even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me.     You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,     too great for me to understand! I can never escape from your Spirit!     I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there;     if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning,     if I dwell by the farthest oceans, 10 even there your hand will guide me,     and your strength will support me. 11 I could ask the darkness to hide me     and the light around me to become night— 12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day.     Darkness and light are the same to you. 13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body     and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!     Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. 15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,     as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. 16 You saw me before I was born.     Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out     before a single day had passed. 17 How precious are your thoughts about me,[b] O God.     They cannot be numbered! 18 I can’t even count them;     they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up,     you are still with me! 19 O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!     Get out of my life, you murderers! 20 They blaspheme you;     your enemies misuse your name. 21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?     Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you? 22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred,     for your enemies are my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;     test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you,     and lead me along the path of everlasting life. But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You. 13 For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;[b] Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. 17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! 18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You. 19 Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men. 20 For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain.[c] 21 Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; 24 And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting. After reading this it should be obvious that God not only sees me, but he also cares deeply about me. So, my original question about David was, “What did his Dad do differently than mine?” That’s simple. His earthy Dad probably made the same mistakes mine did, but David was being fathered by God. I read Psalm 139 and what I see is not only that God sees David, but more importantly David’s awareness that God sees him and is interested in him. The only way for David to know this is from a lifetime of seeking the Father and seeing the results of the Father’s love and faithfulness in his own life. In other words, he was being fathered by God. Where does this leave me? I still want the courage to face a “dread champion” and develop a masculinity like David had; A man after God’s own heart. Well, where it leaves me is in a perfect position to be fathered by God into who and what He created me to be. After all, I know He really sees me and it’s obvious that He really loves and cares about me. Knowing this makes it a little easier to know that God has my back. Jeremiah 20:11 says, “But the Lord is with me like a dread champion; Therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, With an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten.” (NASB). I smile when I read this because now I see that Jeremiah was leaning on the Father much the same way that David did. Like Jeremiah, David trusted that God would be with him as a stronger “dread champion” than Goliath could ever hope to be. David’s confidence that his Father was there and ready to fight for him was certain and this gave him the confidence to fight and beat a “dread champion.” I’ve continued to discover the missing masculine approval of me as I allow God to fill the gaps left by my own Dad. As He father’s me I now am able to look back at my life and see where He was nodding with approval when my Dad was less than present. I can see that He saw me make the honor roll in high school and He was proud of it. I can see that He saw me play volleyball in high school and was metaphorically in the stands cheering me on. I can see that He saw me get beat up by Allen when I was 11 and He hurt for me. Now, as a man readying to become a father for the very first time myself, I can see the Father looking at me and saying, “Son, I’ve trained you for this. You’re ready to lead and you have what it takes. Don’t worry, Son, I’ll be right here watching and ready to help you at a moment’s notice because that’s what a Father does.”  

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Touching the Father’s Heart

Why is church so uncomfortable for men? Why is public worship so difficult for men? Why do football, sleeping in, and NASCAR have a better grasp on how to reach men than the Church does? I’ve been wrestling with these questions for the last 10 years and I think we (the Church) can improve.

When I was a teen, it was always my Mom that would put the pressure on me to go to church and youth group. She wanted me to make my own decision on the matter but she definitely wanted me in fellowship every Sunday. As a teen working his way toward manhood the only idea I had of what a man was came from TV and watching from my Dad day in and day out. What did my Dad teach me? Work ethic and to provide. That was what my Dad was about. On the weekends when he wasn’t at work he was either working on the honey-do list or hiding in his room watching TV. But I knew Dad worked hard so I did my best not to burden him with my desires to throw a baseball around the yards or shoot baskets in the driveway. Instead, I just assumed that this was how married men with children functioned. Yet it seemed strange that I had friends whose fathers were active participants in their lives and yet they too had jobs, families, and honey-do lists. I was thrilled that my Dad wasn’t a babbling buffoon like Al Bundy in Married W/ Children but I also wasn’t being taught what it was to become a man. I know that there are a lot of Father/Son relationships like this and there are a lot of them in the Church.

My Dad professes to be a Christian. I often wonder about it because he doesn’t attend church, seek God, or show fruit. While I know attending church is not a perquisite to getting into heaven I also know that the Father wants relationship with us and wants us to have relationship with each other within the Church. So why do men like my Dad not attend? Today I will start with the music.

I spent almost half of my life involved in the worship ministry and there are a few things I’ve discovered since taking a break from the ministry. I think what I’ve learned sheds some light on this question. For starters, the Church is well equipped to reach men but ill-informed on how to reach men. Until we reach the men we will never reach the children. If Mom goes to church she will get her children to attend for a little while but if Dad attends there’s a better chance that the whole family will be there on Sunday morning. Yet churches seem to target the wife and the children. They have big budgets reserved for the children/youth ministries and there’s never a shortage of women’s events. Men typically tune out of the announcements because deep down we know there’s not going to much there for us.

Then the worship team stakes the stage. How many families do you think show up late just because Dad wants skip the music? My church recently rearranged the service so that our pastor started with teaching and then ended the service with praise and worship. Now, instead of men walking in late they’re now standing there bored and thinking about lunch. But does it need to be that way? I say no. Most men are uncomfortable singing in church because a majority of worship leaders make the same mistakes every service. For starters, they choose vocal ranges that no man is comfortable singing. Every woman is singing along and dear old Dad is now relegated to singing in a key that’s so low that it’s in the basement, but at least he doesn’t feel like he needs to sing in falsetto. If worship leaders chose a key comfortable for a typical man to raise his voice in they would probably see more men actively participate in worship.

The next major worship error is choosing lyrics that are too picturesque. Let’s not forget that most men are visual thinkers. When we hear a song or sing a song we tend to picture it. Now imagine when the worship team cues up David Crowder’s “How He Loves” and the lyrics “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss” are sung. Most men I know are immediately turned off because our minds are no longer focused on anything other than the idea of a sloppy wet kiss. I love to worship and every time a worship leader leads a song like this my mind is jolted and the last thing on my mind is the Father.

The next major worship faux pas is the worship leader that chooses complicated lyrics. Most men are NOT wordy people. We don’t typically want our worship songs to resemble complicated Shakespearean poetry. If we have to concentrate that heavily on the lyrics on the overhead projector we’re probably not going to be or get engaged in worship any time soon.

Lastly, worship leaders tend too overcomplicate things. They end up bouncing back and forth from melody to harmony and leaving the congregation guessing what great vocal feat they’re going to attempt next. When I worship leader does this they typically are no longer leading. They’re performing. I will be the first to admit that I love tasty vocal leads but they are NOT for the worship leader to be attempting. They are supposed to be LEADING. I think that that worship leaders would be more effective having 2-3 background vocalists available to add these vocal parts he/she wants. As “cool” as those vocal parts are they can be very distracting when you’re no longer sure what to follow.

I will tackle more worship issues in a later blog but this is a pretty good start….

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