Background Passage: John 1:43-51
Gene Lewis is 90 years old, still living by himself in Levelland, Texas. He is my Dad.
Born in Rhome, TX, in 1925, my Dad grew up in the small, West Texas farming community less than 20 miles from where he lives today. He served in the Navy during World War II, spending his time in San Francisco ensuring that the military supplies reached their destination on the front lines. He jokes that he served in the Navy and never set foot on a ship. After the service, he returned home, worked as a clerk in a bank until he was robbed at gunpoint and locked in the vault.
Dad spent most of his years as a cotton farmer and his later years working in the county tax appraisal district. After he retired and up until a few years ago, he delivered meals on wheels to the “old people” who couldn’t make it out of the house. He still works occasionally at the appraisal district during their busy times or to help train a new worker. He spends time trying to grow a few tomatoes in baked, red dirt that doesn’t cooperate much. He does love his home-grown tomatoes, but then, so does anyone who has ever tasted home-grown tomatoes.
That tells you what he has done, but not who he is. For that, I’ll simply remind you of the story of one of Jesus’ disciples.
Nathaniel (Bartholomew), born and raised in Cana in lower Galilee just a few miles from Nazareth, worked as a part-time fisherman and a full-time seeker of God’s truth. As Jesus began his ministry, Nathaniel followed the new rabbi for several weeks, listening to his teaching, probably sitting in the back row or on the edge of the crowd, getting his own measure of his teaching. He found Jesus’ conversations in the synagogue always rich with meaning and purpose. The stories to the multitudes penetrating…challenging the listener to think more deeply about God’s word. He was intrigued by this carpenter from Nazareth.
On this particular day, Phillip, one of Jesus’ new disciples, grabbed Nathaniel’s arm with a sense of urgency and excitement. “Come and see,” he said. “We have found the one whom Moses wrote about and about whom the prophets also wrote. Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Knowing the scripture as he did, Nathaniel had trouble believing that the Promised One would come from Nazareth. Not yet knowing that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he stated as fact, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It was not a put down as we have made it over the years. He questioned because the “facts” he knew didn’t align with scripture.
When Phillip and Nathaniel approached, Jesus stood to greet him. With a smile and a comment that conveyed immense respect, Jesus said, “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.”
Whenever I think of that story and the high praise Jesus rained upon Nathaniel, I think of my Dad. The thought popped into my head again this week we approach Father’s Day. My Dad is a true child of God in whom there is nothing false. While certainly not infallible, he lives his life with the utmost integrity. What you see is what you get. And you get a whole lot of good.
As a child growing up and an adult trying to find my own way in the world, Dad’s lifestyle laid out a set of undeclared expectations I still try to meet. He loved my Mom completely and with full devotion. That was a gift to his three children that he modeled each day. They were affectionate, but not mushy. They endured good-natured ribbing and laughed freely. Dad was her biggest supporter and she was his. His ability to love his wife and family openly was, and is, one of my greatest blessings in life.
Farming was not the easiest life to live. Dad would have supported any career path we chose, but we all knew his preference was for us to find another line of work. As a result, he helped raise a lawyer, a doctor and me. Dad instilled in all of his kids a serious work ethic, an attitude I see reflected in my brother and sister in the work they do. He worked hard and did what was necessary to support his family. While we may not have had a lot of material things, we were never poor…in reality, nor in spirit.
Dad spent long hours in the field, but he also knew how to rest. He understood that there was a time and place for everything. He knew how to leave the worries of the work on the tractor and come home focused on his family. He could also put things beyond his control in proper perspective. If the crop was hailed out, he spent little time moaning about his bad luck and more time thinking about the next steps. His work ethic and attitude toward life impacted me greatly.
Dad continues to teach me a great deal about our relationship to others. I don’t think I have ever heard a prejudiced word escape my father’s lips. Given the time period in which he grew up, that’s pretty amazing. He taught all of us that a person’s worth is measured by who he is and not where he comes from or what he looks like. Worth, to Dad, is not measured by political preferences, religious beliefs or immigrant status. A person should be measured by how he lives each day, how he treats others, the value he adds to the world. To treat anyone differently is just wrong.
I watched Dad as I grew up. If he found himself in a fractured relationship for any reason, he did his best to set it right, even if it meant having difficult conversations. Most of the time, those conversations led to a deeper friendship or, at least a mutual, respectful understanding of the other’s position.
These things and so many others make my Dad a great man in my eyes. However, if you know my Dad or ever met him, it would not take you long to understand that his relationship to God is his greatest gift to his family and friends.
If you look back to Nathaniel’s encounter with Jesus, you find Nathaniel stunned that Jesus used such kind words to describe him. “How do you know me?” asked Nathaniel. Jesus replied, “I saw you under the fig tree.” Sounds rather cryptic to us, but Bible scholars say it was not an uncommon circumstance for students of the scripture to congregate under the trees, unroll a scroll to study and discuss God’s Word. I like to think that Jesus was so aware of his surroundings that Nathaniel’s study under the fig tree, his desire to know God more intimately, did not go unnoticed by the Savior.
After a long day at work, it was not uncommon to see my Dad, sitting in his recliner, studying his Sunday School lesson while we watched Andy and Opie or some inane Star Trek episode. His discussions and debates with my Mom about scripture were often lively and always deep. Just reading the words of the Bible at face value is not enough for Dad. He wants to find its core meaning and its common sense application. The Bible for Dad is not spiritual pabulum or an outline of denominational theology, it is a blueprint for practical daily living. Its message drives the way he lives and loves.
I could regale you with stories about my Dad in hopes that you would know him as I do, but I can think of nothing better than this. Dad is Nathaniel in my eyes. A man in whom there is nothing false. And, I am a better man because he continues to teach me all he knows.
I love you, Dad.
Happy Father’s Day.