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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Fathers Day

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost


Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:4

 

I want to wish all the fathers here today happy Fathers’ Day. I’ve been especially blessed because God is my Heavenly Father. This is the first Fathers’ Day that I couldn’t send a card to my father and call him on the phone – but I’m blessed with some of the best memories a child could have of his father. And I’m blessed as a father, too: my daughter Kim was here from Michigan for a visit in April; my daughter Valerie is visiting us from Michigan, for a week now; and my son Kurt and his family are visiting us from Maryland for the weekend. As a matter of fact, I was going to tell you how to be a perfect father like me, but when I realized that two of my kids would be here, I decided not to do that!

 

The scripture I’d like to talk about today is Ephesians chapter 6, verse 4: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

 

I think that being a parent is the greatest job in the world. Not the easiest; not even the most fun – but the most important. The hours are long, and the daily routine is often thankless. But the rewards are second to none! Since this is Fathers’ Day, a lot of my remarks will be aimed especially at fathers.

 

Just the act of becoming a father gives a man pride and honor. Watch a father with a new son or daughter. He’s popping his buttons off like he’d had the baby! And then when the kid says, “Daddy” – and starts to walk – and learns to swim or hit a ball! You meet teachers and parents at school and they say, “Oh, you’re Kurt’s father” and you think, “Yeah, I guess that is my claim to fame.” Or you go to a softball game in time to see a girl hit the ball over the center fielder’s head and into the next ball field, and the girl sitting next to you says, “That’s Valerie Reiter; she’s my friend.” And you say, “She’s my daughter!”

 

But being a father isn’t all a bed of roses, is it? Things go sour sometimes. You goof. You come down too hard on your child, yelling or hitting in anger rather than disciplining in love. You forget that you did the same kinds of things when you were young – or you remember only too well and you’re going to stop them, right now!

 

Or maybe your problem is just the opposite – you don’t really discipline at all. You let your kids get away  with murder. And they become unmanageable – and practically unlovable!

 

It’s tough being a parent – and it’s tough being a child. How do you know what to do? And if we do know what to do, where do we get the will and the strength to do it? Well, in this one verse, Paul gives us a whole volume of sound advice for child raising, first with a negative word and then with a positive one.

 

First, he writes, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” What does that mean? That fathers aren’t to do or say anything that might make their kids mad? Some kids might like to interpret it that way, but I’m afraid that’s not what it means.

 

It does mean that parents aren’t to do and say things that make their children bitter, irritate them, or frustrate them. We’re not to indulge in senseless goading and teasing. These things just make it almost impossible for children to give honor and obedience to their parents.

 

If you fathers want kids that “Don’t never show you no respect,” that are angry and rebellious, that do just the opposite of what you want to teach them, that bring disappointment to you and shame to their mother – if you want kids like that, let me give you a few suggestions:

 

  1. Be inconsistent. One time they want to do something tell them it’s okay. The next time they want to do the same thing, tell them “No” and don’t give them any reason, either. It’ll drive them nuts!

  2. Make promises, like they can have something, or you’ll take them somewhere – and then break your promise for no good reason.

  3. On the flip side of that one, tell them they can’t do or have something, and give them good, sound, correct reasons for your decision – and then let them coax and wheedle you into it anyway.

  4. Or, in that same vein, realize or discover that your first decision was wrong – but stick to it anyway!

  5. Here’s a good one: get after them for doing the same things you do. Maybe cuss when you get mad, and then when your kid spouts one of those 4-letter beauties exclaim, “Where in the … wide, wide world of sports did he learn to talk like that?”

  6. Tease them about their boyfriends or girlfriends when they’re really having problems with them – and do it in front of their friends. In fact, embarrass them in front of their friends every chance you get!

  7. Keep them in their place. When they make a mistake, tell them they’re stupid. When the don’t have a date, tell them they’re ugly. When they don’t get good grades, compare them to their brother or sister who does. You can think of others.

  8. Discipline is a wonderful area with unlimited possibilities for exasperating your children. I’ll give you three ideas: a.  Punish you children too severely – slug them, kick them, hit them with your belt, lock them in a closet. b.  Or another way that works just as well: don’t discipline them at all! Let them grow older just “doing what comes naturally.” Notice I said, “grow older” – they surely won’t grow up! c.  Make threats you can’t possibly carry out. I don’t mean funny ones like “I’ll tear off your head and throw it in your face,” I mean dumb ones like “If you do that one more time, you can’t watch TV for a year!”

  9. I’ll give you one more way to exasperate your children, and this one’s a doozy! React differently at different times to the same things. That way they’ll never know how you’ll react, so they’ll never know how to act!

 

These are tried and true methods for exasperating your children. I imagine most of us can recognize at least a couple of them.

 

We do fail sometimes, don’t we? But a person who fails doesn’t have to be a failure! So we can apologize to our kids and start over again.

 

Have you ever apologized to your kids for making a mistake? It isn’t easy, is it? But it surely is worth the effort. Any wimp can be a bully; it takes a real man to admit he’s made a mistake, apologize for it, and ask for forgiveness!

 

Sometimes raising children reminds me of flying a kite. If you want a kite to go up high, you have to keep giving it more and more string. In the same way, if you want children to rise up, they too have to be given more and more freedom. Now, when you give a kite string, you need to let it out slowly enough so that it stays tight. If you let out too much at once, the kite dives, and maybe crashes. In the same way, too much freedom given without responsibility to go with it is dangerous. Today we hear a lot about peoples’ rights but we don’t hear much about responsibilities. Freedom to do whatever you want isn’t freedom – it’s an invitation to crash!

 

There’s another thing a kite has to have, and that’s a tail to keep it right side up. Without a tail, and pressures, winds or air currents send it into a spin. But with a tail, it may wobble back and forth sometimes, but it’s able to straighten up and fly right!

 

And this “tail”, this stabilizer is what Paul is writing about in his statement of parental duty on the positive side. He says, “Fathers, … bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

 

Training and instruction – we are to train our children by our words and our deeds, by teaching and example. In other words, we’re not supposed to send our kids to Sunday School – we’re supposed to take them when we go!

 

In the Book of Deuteronomy we read, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” So we’re to bring up our children in the training and instruction of the Lord when we’re in the house, when we’re outside, when we’re going to bed, and when we’re getting up. That doesn’t leave much time when our words and actions with our children aren’t to be pleasing to God, does it?

 

Bring them up in the instruction of the Lord. That’s what Martin Luther said in his Catechism, remember? Look at the beginning of each section and it reads like this: “The Ten Commandments, as the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.” The Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion – all “As the head of the family should teach them… to his household.” No copping out, dad!

 

All of Christ’s teaching was designed to win people into His Kingdom. With Jesus as our example, this is what we parents are to do, too. That’s why I said in the beginning that being a parent is the most important job there is. God gives us His children for a while to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

 

And when our efforts bear fruit, the whole job of parenting suddenly becomes worthwhile, doesn’t it? And the good news is that we can be good parents – not perfect ones, of course – but we can raise our children in the training and instruction of the Lord. We can raise them His way, with the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

We can love our children because God first loved us – loved us so much that He sacrificed His own. So that we might have eternal life, and an abundant life now. We can give to our children because God gives so much to us – often with little or no thanks, and with us never realizing how much He has really given to us.

 

We fathers are able to be good heads of our families because the Holy Spirit enables us to let God be the head of our lives.

 

His Spirit makes it possible for us to be children in the Lord and parents in the Lord. We can forgive each other because we are forgiven. We can love each  other because we are loved – and as the song says, “The One who knows us best, loves us most.” We can sacrifice for each other because of the ultimate sacrifice made for us. And parents can let go of their children – give them all the string – because they know their children belong to God.

 

May God grant us all the faith and courage and power to be the fathers, and mothers, and children that He would have us to be.

 

Amen

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