Their Father’s Eyes

Background Passage: I Corinthians 13:4-8a

I’m certain there were a great many times during my sons’ teenage years when they agreed with Mark Twain when he said, “When I was fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.” Hopefully, now that both of them are in their 30s, they might agree with Twain’s finished thought. “But, when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned.”

We celebrate Father’s Day this weekend. Last year I wrote about my Dad and the genuineness and integrity he brings to life each day. This weekend, he is in a rehab hospital recovering from hip replacement surgery at the age of 91. He is a good, good man.

I think back on all I learned from Dad and hope I put the best of those things into practice during my 38 years as the father of two sons. Adam and Andrew witnessed my response through the ups and downs…through life’s turmoil and trauma and its beauty and blessings. They saw me struggle when the fog of life shrouded my sense of direction. Hopefully, they also saw me press on until the mist lifted and the sun shone brightly again. Hopefully, they learned during all those days what not to do as easily as they learned what to do.

I have watched my two sons grow and mature into amazing husbands and fathers. Granted, neither of them has walked yet in the furnace of fire that will surely engulf them during the teenage years to come. Based on what I have seen so far, I think they’ll do fine.

So, on this Father’s Day, while I am eternally grateful for the example of my own father, I am equally blessed by the example of my sons.

I rejoice also knowing that both of my sons know first-hand the love of Christ and live each day in faith and commitment to him. Their relationship to Christ guides their relationships with their wives, their children and all those they encounter. They live as a witness to their faith by telling their kids about Jesus and his love for them and by bringing their children to church. As a result, the seed of grace and faith have already been planted in the lives of grandchildren. This testimony of faith is the greatest gift my sons will give their children through all the days of their lives.

Both my sons married well. God led them to two women who complement them in every way. Adam’s wife, Jordan, and Andrew’s wife, Melissa, are delightful additions to our family. It is obvious to me that Adam and Andrew adore them. Love is evident at its deepest level. Visible in meaningful ways. I’m grateful that they listened as God put those two women into their lives. They are stronger men and better fathers because of these exceptional young women.

Adam and Jordan have two sons, Eli, 6, and Josiah, 4. Andrew and Melissa have two daughters, Lena, 2, and Amelia, 6 months. These children recognize at some level the love their parents have for one another, even if they may be too young to fully understand it. It is another beautiful gift my sons give their children.

The two families joined us at our house today to celebrate my Father’s Day. It was good to have them here. The house was noisy, busy with the echoes of childish laughter and the stomp of running feet throughout the house. Sublime perfection.

Because I had this thought in mind for this devotional, I watched more closely the way my sons covered my grandkids in love. The passage of scripture that came to mind was not one of those traditional Father’s Day scriptures. Paul’s words in I Corinthians 13 jumped into my heart.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

I watch my sons playing with their children, spending quality time with them, and this is what I see. A love that is both patient and kind, expressed in arms that enfold them. Words of encouragement that build a child’s self-worth. A love that disciplines when necessary…not in a hateful or reactive manner, but in an instructive way. The fatherly guidance children need to understand the nature of right and wrong. Lessons that teach acceptable behavior and how God wants them to live. It is a love that guides and seeks the best for the child. The love I see in their eyes as they live life as a parent is protective, trusting, hopeful and constant. It is, I know, a love that never fails.

So, I watch them and think, “Maybe I didn’t screw them up after all.”

We like to talk about children who look like their parents. We say, “He has his father’s eyes.” Gary Chapmen wrote a song in 1979 that shows he understands that phrase in a different way. He saw in his own father a man who found the good in everyone and every circumstance. A man whose eyes reflected compassion and empathy. Chapman’s hope expressed in the first verse is that others will see in his own eyes what he saw in his father’s eyes. He then takes the last verse to a deeper level, reminding us that the world ought to see the loving eyes of our heavenly father reflected in our own.

I truly don’t know what others might see of me when they look into the eyes of my sons. I hope my influence has been a positive one. What is most important to me is that others see the eyes of Christ in the eyes of my sons because that’s what I see. For in their eyes, I see…

“Eyes that find the good in things,

When good is not around;

Eyes that find the source of help,

When help just can’t be found;

Eyes full of compassion,

Seeing every pain;

Knowing what you’re going through

And feeling it the same.”

In my mind, Adam and Andrew have their heavenly Father’s eyes that shine with compassion and empathy in their relationship to their wives, their children and the world around them. An earthly father cannot hope for more.

As I watched the frenetic activity around me today, I prayed that my grandchildren someday realize what a blessing it is to be wrapped in their father’s love. I pray they have their fathers’ eyes…as well as Father’s eyes.

Dip Your Toes in the Jordan

Background Passage: Joshua 1:1-9

I walked on stage this year again as a part of yet another high school graduation. After a 30-year career in public education, I’ve participated in one form or another in more than 120 commencement exercises and watched roughly 65,000 young people end their high school careers. That means I’ve seen my share of beach balls. Heard my share of air horns. Watched my share of impromptu dances across the stage.

The faces of these graduates as they received that cherished piece of parchment paper reflected a mixture of joy and excitement, tinged with an underlying sense of dread. Each of them undoubtedly realized in the hours after they walked the stage that they faced a future that remained largely unknown despite all their plans and dreams.

As I watched the evenings unfold each year, the ceremony always reminded me of my own graduation from high school. The scope and venue were certainly different. NRG Stadium in Houston compared to my high school auditorium in Ropesville. Standing among classes ranging in size from 450 to 900 students compared to my class of 33.

The graduation ceremonies, regardless of time, place and size, mean the same today as they did in our yesterday. Each graduate ends that which is familiar to begin a future that will unfold before them in unexpected ways, taking them down paths beyond anything they can truly imagine. It will be confusing and chaotic. Exciting and exhilarating. Filled with joy and pain. Some will thrive amid the challenges of life. Others will wither under its pressure.

So, we watch these young people graduate from high school with a prayer on our lips and hope in our hearts that God will lead, guide and protect them through each day of their lives. I am certain, whether they know it or not, they will need his presence every step of the way.

Our culture calls it commencement. A beginning. I like to think of it as a commissioning. A challenge set before them to be all God needs them to be in whatever call of life he sets before them.

He faithfully served his God under the leadership of Moses. Chosen among the leaders of his tribe to sit among Moses’ council of advisors, Joshua played a significant role in leading the Hebrew people into the promised land. As a spy, Joshua refused to see the land of Canaan as a place of unconquerable giants and impenetrable fortress cities as others did. Rather, Joshua saw the land God promised as a land of milk and honey.

Because of his trust and faith in God, Joshua was given the task originally assigned to Moses. I picture him standing ankle deep in the slow current of the River Jordan, staring across the valley in the direction of Jericho. It is three days before he would give the command to his people to cross the river and enter the land of promise.

If he was anything like most of us, and I suspect he was, he fought an internal battle with his doubts and fears, voicing a prayer for strength and wisdom he did not feel. Joshua surely understood his future would be at times confusing and chaotic. Exciting and exhilarating. Filled with joy and pain. A future in which he could thrive amid the challenges and stumble under the pressure. Like our graduates today, I suspect the butterflies in Joshua’s stomach seemed as large as eagles.

God chose that moment as his commencement. His commissioning. The Old Testament tells us that God gave his charge to the leader of his people as he stood with his toes in the Jordan. As a commission to those he calls to serve it can encourage our graduates equally well as they prepare to encounter life after high school. And, it is good news indeed.

God said to Joshua…

“Be strong and very courageous. Obey the laws Moses gave you. Do not turn away from them and you will be successful in everything you do. Study this book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed. I command you…be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord you God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7-9)

To our graduates know that God has a purpose for your life, just as he did when he told Joshua, “You will lead my people to possess all the land I promised to give their ancestors.” His plan is unique to you, to the heart he has given you, the skill sets you have learned and the talents you acquire along the way. I can almost guarantee you the plan will take you places you never thought you’d go. Watch for the doors that open and don’t hesitate to walk through them.

Following God’s path will not always be easy. Life will hit with cold reality that will lead to disappointment and discouragement. Yet it will also bless in glorious ways. God encouraged Joshua to “be strong and very courageous.” The door he opens may not be the threshold you wanted to cross. Step through it anyway with courage, conviction and confidence in the Father. The door may appear to be blocked. Overcome. Persevere and rest on the promises of God.

God reminds us in this passage that success is contingent on our understanding of and obedience to the word of God. We leave high school and home desiring to exert our personal independence, to make our own choices and chart our own course in life. That’s the whole point of growing up.

Free of someone who wakes you on Sunday morning for church, it will be easy to sleep in…to set aside your faith. A word of caution. Now is not the time to express your independence from God. As you enter college or head into the work force to establish a home of your own, you will choose whether to abandon the relationship you have with Christ or to draw more deeply upon it. You have that choice.

God reminded Joshua not to stray from the teachings of God. To hold the word of God close to his heart. To meditate upon it. To study it. To draw from scripture the wisdom of God that enables us to deal with both the good and difficult times of life. This is the key to success.

Be careful also to recognize success through the eyes of God and not the eyes of the world. Success hinges upon your ability to stay focused and obedient to the plan God has for you. When we walk in his steps we walk on firm ground, able to experience joy and contentment in a life of service to the Father and to others.

As you can imagine and as the scripture tells us, Joshua and his people had to fight for all that God promised. The path God chose for Joshua was not easy. The hardships and heartaches were real. The difficulties must have seemed insurmountable at times where Joshua struggled with which way to turn and what he should do. He must have felt terribly alone at times.

You will almost certainly face hardships and heartaches throughout your life, hopefully in the measured grace of God’s blessings. You will face some of life’s hardest decisions, uncertain about which way to turn and what you should do.

Know this. God promised his presence. “…the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” It is a promise as true today as it was when Joshua stood with his toes in the Jordan River. Trust the promise. Trust in the one who made it. God will be with you wherever you go.

So the message of Joshua speaks these four things as clearly to me today as it should to you as a high school graduate.

God has a plan and purpose for each of us…in every phase of life.

He calls us to walk with strength and courage in obedience to his plan and purpose regardless of where it leads us.

We find that strength and courage and discover his will and wisdom only when we seek him and immerse ourselves in his word.

Despite the difficulties that will most assuredly come, we can rest each day knowing that he will be with us wherever we go.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned and the one of which I am reminded with every graduation I attend. The challenge of graduation isn’t a one-time event. After you’ve tossed the cap and hung the tassel from the mirror of your car, you will take the next step in the life God has planned for you. You will dip your toes in the Jordan and step into the land he has promised. From that day forward, you will find another Jordan to cross. And another. And another. And another.

To every graduate out there, whether with the Class of 2017 or any class back through time, celebrate this special day. When it is over, dip your toes in the Jordan. You can’t imagine what God has planned for you!