A Fatherless Nation

A Fatherless Nation

According to the latest U.S. Census [2009] statistics, about a quarter of all children live in single-parent homes, with blacks having a significantly higher percentage [just over 50%]. It should also be noted that those single-parent homes are almost exclusively mothers [over 90%]. Especially for one ethnic group in this country, many children are raised without their fathers. This was a point emphasized by none other than then-Senator Barack Obama in a Father's Day [2008] address at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago. He further noted that these "children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison." Statistics show he was telling the truth.

    As citizens, we should be concerned for our fellow Americans but, as Christians, we should have an even greater concern than just the socioeconomic consequences. We should be concerned for the spiritual state of those growing up without fathers, yes, but maybe in a different way than you might think. Bear with me on this, but I think this is a point not to be ignored or simply dismissed when trying to reach the lost and give them reasons why they should believe in God, why they should believe His promises, and to see the benefits of our earthly spiritual family, the church.

    The Earthly/Heavenly Father Parallel. Throughout the Bible, we see the picture of God as our Father, beginning with the question posed to the Israelites as they approached entry into the Promised Land [“Is He not your Father, who bought you?” cf. Deut. 32:6], but more so throughout the New Testament, as with Paul's opening greetings found in so many of his letters [“Grace to you and peace from God our Father”; cf. Eph. 1:2]. Indeed, within the Old Testament, God admitted, “I am a Father to Israel” (Jer. 31:9), and to those who followed Christ, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters” (2nd Cor. 6:18). God took the role of our heavenly Father — a title Jesus also used for God (cf. Matt. 6:14) — and purposefully so.

    To the Israelites, God promised He would provide abundantly for them (Deut. 28:2-6) and that He would protect them from their enemies (v. 7) — as any father would; but He also promised He would discipline them when they disobeyed or rebelled against Him (vv. 15-68). As a trustworthy Father, He kept His word to them and nothing He said did not come to pass (cf. Josh. 21:45). They would later understand that He kept His word regarding the promise of discipline, just as surely as He had kept His word regarding the good things (cf. Dan. 9:12). They could not say, throughout it all, that their Father did not care, or that He was absent.

    Throughout the history of the Israelite nation, even in those times when they turned away from Him time and time again, their Father pleaded with them to return and be forgiven and blessed once again. In spite of their persistent unfaithfulness, God still could say, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). That same measure of love was what moved God to send His only Son to die for our sins, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16), and, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), with “us” being sinners — all of us. This is a Father who cares so much for the sinful that He would adopt them as His children if they were but willing!

    The Husband/Wife Parallel to Christ and the Church. In another parallel [not unrelated to the first], God's word also draws a parallel between the husband/wife relationship and that of Christ and the church, as found in Ephesians 5:22-33. Keep in mind first that the church parallels the wife, who is subject to Christ in everything (v. 24), and Christ is the husband, who loved the church and gave Himself for her (v. 25). This parallel is one that helps us understand both the role of the church and the love of Christ, as demonstrated [ideally] by the husband/wife relationship. For today's study, let us focus on the husband/Christ and Paul's admonition that husbands “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (v. 25), and, “husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies” (v. 28). In other words, what should be seen in the marriage relationship is a husband that shows the same degree of sacrificial love as Christ showed in the sacrifice of Himself for the church. This is the way it should be.

    Now, with both of these illustrations and parallels, let us stop and consider what is missing when a household with children does not have a father/husband — something that affects the children of fatherless homes, our society as a whole, and the meaningfulness of the spiritual parallels we often use to appeal to those of the world to see the value in believing in and following God and Christ. Consider:

    God As The ‘Father’ Will Have A Different Meaning. For someone who has grown up in a house with a father, being told God is our heavenly Father will be something he or she can relate to, and will ideally see that God cares for us, provides for us, and protects us in a spiritual sense; but what about the one who has not ever seen or known a father in his or her house? What will he or she think, then, when we speak about God being our Father?

    Sadly, many single-parent homes [ones with only a mother] have children who have seen anything and everything but the ideal example. For many, what they see is a man who uses the mother for his own selfish purposes, is not faithful to her, and who leaves when he is no longer happy. Far too many see a man who is self-centered, uncommitted to the mother or to the children, who feel no responsibility to either, or — worse — one who is an abuser of either one or both.

    They will have grown up without a mentor, provider, or protector; they will not have had the experience of a father's concern, love, or discipline, either. God as ‘Father’ will not be an appeal, but it might just be seen in a negative light.

    Christ's Love For The Church Will Be A Foreign Concept. In homes without fathers, there is, of course, no example of a father who loves his wife and will sacrifice everything for her. As was stated earlier, far too many times, the men the fatherless see are users and abusers — not even close to the picture of the husband whom Christ parallels.

    In each of these situations, it will be necessary to be careful to show such ones the Bible picture of who God is so they may see what a father should be and should do, and how God as our Father does it all to perfection and without fail; we must also show the Bible picture of Christ's love for the church and His willingness to sacrifice even His own life for her, and what that sacrifice means.

    Now, of course, this is all said with the understanding that in many homes in which the father is present, the examples are still not what they should be, and one's perception of God the Father and Christ the loving husband of the church will be skewed. That is a study for another day.

    The point we must not forget is that not everyone grew up in a two-parent, loving home; let us ensure we use words and terms others can truly relate to, so the power of the gospel is not lost on them.         —— Steven Harper


One week from today, we begin a new calendar year and many of us will be making those New Year's Resolutions once again. As we make our list out once again, what are our spiritual resolutions and goals for the year? Have we made the spiritual goals our priority? If you haven't, may I suggest the following points to help you keep the proper focus in the coming year?
    Focus on the Spiritual Things. As Christians, we must live in such a way that others see that we have a different aim in life than the vast majority of the world; we must be spiritually focused, rather than materially focused. All that means is, as a Christian, you must “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). Paul would later warn against “covetousness, which is idolatry” (v. 5) — the complete opposite mindset that disciples must have. If we are focused on spiritual things, it would be very difficult to covet anything!
    Being spiritually-minded simply means we have as our primary thoughts the spiritual matters, rather than the physical and material things of this world; it means we set our minds on “the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 5:5) and, with a spiritual mind, will pursuethe “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22, 23) rather than the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21), knowing we cannot do both because “these are contrary to one another” (Gal. 5:17). We set our minds exclusively on the spiritual things because God does not accept a divided heart (cf. Hos. 10:2; 1st Kings 18:21) and attempting to do so is a futile effort.
    A spiritual mind will be demonstrated in everyday conversation, with conversations begun with spiritual interests, rather than the mundane. We will speak of our faith, show it by our deeds, and strive to help others know about the spiritual blessings of forgiveness and the hope of eternal life in heaven because, when our focus is spiritual, we will be thinking primarily about their soul, and not their clothing, the neighborhood they live in, or the car they drive. It will also be shown in the life we live, where God is always our priority (cf. Matt. 6:33), and we don't mind ‘missing out’ on many activities the fleshly-minded ones pursue and enjoy; we don't mind ‘missing out’ because we really know something far better!
    So in this coming year, focus on building up your spiritual strength, more so than even your physical body; focus on increasing your spiritual knowledge by making Bible study a regular part of your daily schedule; focus on making prayer a regular part of your day; focus on trying to lead lost souls to Jesus; focus on the spiritually-weak brethren that you may encourage, exhort, or rebuke them when possible and when needed; and focus on assembling with your fellow disciples to worship God and study His word every chance you get. These are just some of the things we will focus on if the spiritual things are our priority.
    Focus on Jesus. As disciples, in the midst of a world that is becoming increasingly antagonistic towards religion, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted by the trials and persecution that may come our way, instead “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2, NASB) that we might finish the race set before us. It is when we take our eyes off of Jesus that we allow the troubles and trials of this world to overwhelm us and cause us to doubt, just like Peter when he walked to Jesus on the water, but then began to sink when he looked around at the boisterous waves (Matt. 14:29, 30). Keeping our eyes on Jesus will prevent us from ‘sinking’ into doubt and fear.
    Keeping our focus on Jesus, too, will remind us for whom we live. When we look to Him, we will remember thatit was He who “though He was rich, yet for [our] sakes He became poor, that [we] through His poverty might become rich” (2nd Cor. 8:9), that it was He who “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phlp. 2:7, 8), and that it was He who “has loved us and given Himself for us” (Eph. 5:2). With a focus on Jesus, who is in heaven (Col. 3:1), it will be difficult to seek after the worldly things — the things that necessitated Him coming to earth to die for us; when we keep our eyes on Jesus, it will be a constant reminder of the price of sin, and thus a deterrent to us adding to our transgressions.
    In this coming year, focus on Jesus a little more…no — a LOT more. Make sure He is in your thoughts every day. Study His word to know what is pleasing to Him, and then do those things. Think of the many ways you can honor His name by showing the world what it really means to be a Christian; show everyone genuine love, compassion, and concern — just as He did — and I would almost guarantee someone will notice, and some will even be thankful. Some might even ask about why you live as you do — and then you have an opportunity to tell them!
    Focus on Eternity. As physical beings, it is quite often difficult to look beyond the physical, visible things and look to the non-material, invisible things, but we must “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2nd Cor. 5:7). While the visible, material things are easy to see and believe, we are called to look beyond this material world and set our eyes and hearts on what is yet to come. We must not get caught up in the rush to accumulate and seek happiness in material, temporary things, but seek treasures more lasting than the material things of this world. As Jesus put it, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19, 20). We should do so because where our treasure is, our minds will be set there, too (v. 21).
    The wise writer was one whosought happiness in the things of this earth [the things “under the sun”], yet he concluded, “all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Eccl. 1:14) — and he tried it all! Instead of trying to prove him wrong by pursuing the same futile things, it would be much wiser to listen to someone who knows and re-direct our focus to the things beyond the sun — the eternal things. Since all that is in this world will be burned up in the end (cf. 2nd Pet. 3:10-12), we must admit these things will not give us the satisfaction we seek, and these things will not last. As Paul wrote, “we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2nd Cor. 4:18). Why focus on something that is merely temporary?
     In the coming year, try to think dailynot about the here and now, try to not get so wrapped up in current events, and not dwell on the drudgery of living in a sin-filled world. Think about the promise of eternal life God has made to the faithful (cf. 1st John 2:25); think about the possibility of eternity in heaven with God, Christ, the Spirit, and the saints of all ages. Make your daily choices based on eternity, not any potential consequences or rewards here on earth. When you do, you might be surprised how your change of perspective changes your attitude, your spiritual fruitfulness, and your daily choices.
    Next year, focus on the things that matter. And may God bless you!    —— Steven Harper