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You can listen to the talk/watch the video of the teaching based on these notes.

In South Africa we celebrated Youth Day on Wednesday 16 June. Today, Sunday 20 June, we celebrate, internationally, Father’s Day. It is appropriate that they are a few days apart because it speaks to us of fathers and sons, of the older and younger generation.

We remember the brave youth of 1976, who marched from Orlando West High School on the streets of Soweto against the proposed imposition of Afrikaans by the Apartheid regime as the language of education in black schools. Hector Peterson was the first student killed by the police on that day, with another 500 killed in the following weeks, in the protests and riots that followed. What happened to that generation? Were their wounds ever healed?

Many (or most?) have become fathers and mothers. So, what of their children? What of the youth today? We live with so much pain and tragedy in our nation, in the youth, but also of broken fathers and mothers. Stats South Africa recently reported that since the corona pandemic the unemployment rate has risen to 43%, with youth unemployment at 74%, in a country where the median wage is R3 600 a month (275 USD), and poverty is above 55% across all groups and 84.2% among indigenous Africans, with the Gini coefficient at 0.63. What an enormous challenge. The frustration, anger and pain of the youth is a ticking time-bomb. We talk of the fatherless generation. Of father-failure. With it comes broken and toxic masculinity expressed in destructive ways, as in gender based violence. God help us.   

Samuel Osherson said, in Finding our Fathers: The Unfinished Business of Manhood, “The psychological or physical absence of fathers from their families is one of the great underestimated tragedies of our time”.

And Edward Stein said, “Psychological fathering is what the world is in need of more than ever in its history. There is a considerable body of scholarly evidence that civilisation will stand or fall with whether such fathering is available in sufficient quantity”.     

So, today we honour our fathers, for better or for worse, and we seek their well-being. We honour our youth and seek their highest good, by being the best fathers/parents to them.

Paul says in Ephesians 6:1-2, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  ‘Honour your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’” Not all of us are privileged to be fathers or mothers, but all of us have a father, were born of his sperm. No matter what your experience of your father has been, you can seek to forgive and honour him – with God’s help – for in so doing you honour God your (real) Father.

Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children & children to the fathers

God said via the prophet Malachi (4:5) in 430 BC, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers (parents) to their sons and daughters (children), and the hearts of the children to their fathers (parents); or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Broken and toxic fathering and mothering, and lost sons and daughters, with the deconstruction and disintegration of marriage and family in our day, is the “total destruction” of society.

The prophecy is fulfilled, at least in principle, in the birth of John the baptiser and Messiah’s coming. It is quoted, and interpreted, in the New Testament by Gabriel regarding the birth of Zachariah’s son, John: “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just (righteous)—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Arguably, the greatest need in our world today, for redemption and restoration, is to turn the hearts of the fathers and mothers to the sons and daughters, and vice versa, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord for the good of society, for the renewal of the world.

Note, a) in both texts it is first the hearts of the fathers (parents) that turn to the children – the older we grow the more we need our children, and need to turn to them in forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and harmony… in order to die well and to bless them. And b) the “turning of the children to the fathers (parents)” is rephrased as “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just/righteous” – role of fathers/mothers is to impart “the wisdom of the righteous”, the right way of being, right way of living, of thinking, speaking, behaving.    

What “wisdom” do we fathers impart? That of “the just”, from God, from heaven? Or the “wisdom” that is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic”, as James 3:13-18 says. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil. You carry out your father’s desires, a murderer from the beginning. Lies are his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Do we lie to our children? Or tell the tough truth in love? Whose ‘fathering nature‘ do we represent and live? God’s character/wisdom? Or the devil’s nature/“wisdom”?

Therefore, from these texts, and from men’s studies, mature (godly) fatherhood is marked by three essential characteristics:  truth, wisdom and compassion.

Defining fatherhood/fathering

Paul says in Ephesians 3:14,  “I kneel before the Father (Pater) from whom every family (patria, fatherhood) in heaven and on earth derives its name (its nature and character)”.
God’s fatherhood is the source and definition of all fathering and family in all created reality. Our fathering (and mothering) ought to express God’s fathering/parenting. Parents represent and communicate God to their children, for better or for worse.  

Note: this does not mean God is father as in male. We, men, have done a great disservice by using male-dominated language without discernment or disclaimers, in effect conveying the idea that God is a man. God is (S)spirit and does not have a body (John 4:24). The inclusivity of gender in regard to God in the Hebrew Bible goes unnoticed: God is father, but is also portrayed in mother/feminine imagery. It’s a theological concept, not a biological reality. In fact, the Spirit (Ruach) of God is consistently a feminine noun in Hebrew (e.g. Genesis 1:2).

How does God father us? What are the characteristics of God’s fathering/mothering?

There is much to say about the many features of (God’s) fathering/mothering, but here are a few key ones taken from Mark 1:10-11, “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven (from God): ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’

Fatherhood is the Source of Life:  God gives life. We’re born-again by God’s ‘seed’, sperma, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16). Parents make/give life… fathering is generative to all around.  

Fatherhood identifies us in being:  “You are my son, my daughter, my BELOVED daughter/ son”. Biblically, we do not self-identify – God identifies us in creation and in new creation.
“He brought me into his banqueting hall and his banner over me is LOVE” (Song of Sol 2:4). Fathering/mothering identifies (gives identity to) those around them – as LOVE – as truly and uniquely loved… by God… through the gift of both biological and spiritual parenting.

Fatherhood affirms us in person:  “In whom I am well pleased, on whom my favour rests, in whom I delight”. These three phrases are all correct possible translations from the text. This is the power of pronouncing blessing. Fathers & mothers truly delight in those around them, as say it! They affirm others as “well pleased”, conferring favour on them, as God does.

Fatherhood empowers us in doing:  “Heaven was torn open and the Spirit descended on him like a dove”. Parenting is empowering… or is meant to be… to empower young people, and all those around us, to do the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Fathering & mothering is an impartation of spirit, of God’s Spirit. It is an equipping with what is needed to facilitate and enable people’s full potential in God.

Concluding recommendations

Turn your heart to your father (& mother) by “go & find” them. Reconcile with them. Heal your ‘father/mother wound’. Sort out whatever needs to be sorted out.

At the same time, take responsibility for your own wounds, your unresolved ‘stuff’, and get help and healing to grow through it, so that “it” becomes a source of healing to others.

Then honour your father and mother in whichever spiritual and tangible ways you can.

Seek to humbly father/mother others in a psycho-emotional-spiritual sense, as God gives you this kind of ‘ministry’ opportunity to those willing to receive it. Seek to be, under God, a living example of God’s fathering/mothering to all who want to draw on it by virtue of them seeing and experiencing it’s reality flowing in and through you.

Mature spiritual fathering and mothering is not so much a doing of things as it is a being of person, a way of living, a spirit of loving… in truth, wisdom and compassion.

God bless you!

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Father’s Day Message

Think about your father – dead or alive – or imagine him if you never knew him. What feeling does it evoke in you? What word(s) comes to mind?

Last Sunday, 9 June, was Pentecost in the Christian calendar: to celebrate the coming of God’s Spirit. Fifty days earlier was Passover, to remember Jesus The Lamb of God – God’s Son – who led a new Exodus out of the slavery of sin and death into the Kingdom of God. This Sunday, 16 June, is the Feast of the Trinity to celebrate the mystery of God as Trinity – The Eternal Community – with special focus on The Father. And this Sunday is also Father’s Day, to remember and celebrate our fathers. There is an intrinsic link between the two, our heavenly Father and earthly fatherhood.

Paul prays in Ephesians 3:14-21, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… being rooted and established in love… “

“The reason” for Paul’s kneeling before God the Father is the astonishing vision of the plan and execution of salvation that he describes from chapters 1 to 3. It is a vision of full Trinitarian participation, as in the reference in the above text to the Father, Son and Spirit.

Paul, a Jewish monotheist rabbi, had a phrase to communicate his revised Messianic view of God: “God our Father and the Lord Jesus… the God and Father of our Lord Jesus” (Ephesians 1:2,3). God is both Father and Jesus – and Spirit. We know God as the Father through the Son, Messiah Jesus, by the Spirit. Jesus came to reveal God: we know God as Father in relation to the Son. In other words, to know Jesus in his earthly and historical relationship to God as (his) Father, by the Spirit, is to know God The Father. The way the Father and Son love and relate reveal who they are. The Trinity is a beautiful mystery of Three Persons in the most intimate relational life of love that we can ever imagine, so much so that They are one nature and substance. And the essence of that reality is LOVE.

“I kneel before the Pater, from whom all patria derives its name”:  Pater (God the Father) defines patria (family, more accurately, fatherhood). “Derives its name” means that fatherhood and thus family derives its nature and character from God’s Fatherhood – the fountain of all reality within the Trinity and in creation. The question is: where do we derive the nature and character of human fathering? For Paul, God’s fatherhood is the standard AND the source of all earthly fathering. It is not only the measure but also the means of all fatherhood and family in heaven and on earth. This is profound. It has serious implications.

The meaning of ‘Father’ in relation to God is human language to describe a Self-revealing Mystery we call God. Though inadequate, it’s a category we can relate to, a shadow of the glorious Reality of which it speaks. The Biblical revelation of God as Father was a polemic against the matriarchal gods and cultures of the Ancient Near East – a theological word for the Jewish experience of the Self-revealing Creator-God. Thus ‘Father’ does NOT mean God is a man. It speaks of God’s characteristics of fathering, and of mothering (Hebrew Ruach, God’s Spirit, is a feminine noun; there are many feminine images of God as mother, nurturer and comforter in the Hebrew Testament). God has masculine and feminine traits – and infinitely more characteristics – seen in his human image as male and female. Thus we can say that, in terms of God’s nature and character in relation to the Trinity and creation, God is experienced as a Father who is also a Mother.

We experience the Father, Paul says, through the Son, Messiah Jesus, who “dwells in our hearts by faith”, through “the power of his Spirit in our inner being”, who transforms us from inside out into the Father’s nature and character. Then we live a life of LOVE: “being rooted and established in (the) LOVE” of the Father and Son by the Spirit.

What does this mean for Father’s Day, for earthly fathers?  My answer:

  1. Uphold a high vision of fatherhood and culture of fathering as in the Biblical revelation of God as Father. Earthly fathers (and mothers) are enabled by The Father, through the Son by the Spirit, to live the following characteristics (among others)

    A Compassionate and Protective Father:  Psalm 68:5-6
    A Welcoming, Forgiving and Celebrating Father:  Luke 15:20-24
    A Loving and Disciplining Father:  Hebrews 12:5-11
    A Generous and Good Father:  James 1:17, Luke 11:9-13
    A Blessing and Providing Father:  Ephesians 1:3f, Matthew 6:26 (vv.25-34)

  2. Give thanks to God for our earthly fathers, though they fall short of God’s standard in their sinfulness and broken masculinity.

  3. Forgive our fathers for their failures – even their abdication and abandonment, their abusive fathering and toxic masculinity – because God forgives us of our sin. And God forgives them, and God heals us of our deepest hurts.

  4. Celebrate the good we find in our fathers. Think about the good things, that which is a reflection of God our Father, no matter how faint it may be.

  5. Pray for, bless and honor our fathers (and mothers). They need us more than we realize. Let us obey God’s first commandment that came with a promise: “honor your father and mother so that you may live long…”    

  6. Seek for and connect to our fathers. The unfinished business of manhood (and daughterhood) is to seek our fathers, to not only make peace, but to love and relate.

  7. Receive God’s re-fathering of us. God is our real and true Father – much more than we realize! Jesus taught us to relate and pray to God as our “Abba”, Daddy. God is a Father to us in a way that our fathers are/were unable to be, in all their needs and limitations. We can receive God’s personal re-fathering and healing love for our growth to wholeness.

Happy Father’s Day!