Unplanned Fathering

In 2014 the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org) reported that 26% of American kids grow up without a father in the home. This year that number is reportedly up to as high as 33 %. That means that if my kids were average American kids one of my children would be living somewhere else without my day to day influence and guidance in their life. The absence of a parent of either gender brings great challenges to the overall development of a child in every way. If it takes two people to make a baby it takes at least two to raise that baby to become all she/he can potentially be.  Fathers matter for more than their initial donation. They are needed as providers, protectors, and patient advocates as well as counselors, coaches, and cheerleaders of their children. Fathering matters to children and not just on Father’s Day.

Fathers that are absent from their children’s lives are not only hurting their children, but they are hurting society. A kid without a father in their home are four times more likely to live in poverty. They are seven times more likely to become teenage parents. They are twice as likely to drop out of high school. Kid’s without a father in their home are more likely to have behavior problems, be obese, face abuse/neglect, go to prison, commit a crime, and/or suffer from depression. There is no debate that a father in the home and actively involved in their child’s life makes a significant difference in the family as well as society. (See “The Father Absence Crisis in America on http://www.fatherhood.org)

Some Fathers are absent from their children because of their behavior or bad choices. Some are absent because they have betrayed their partner and their children in a way that shows them unfit and untrustworthy. Some fathers are absent because their father was absent in their life and they just don’t know any better. Yet, some fathers are absent because they were thrown out, shut out, or litigated out of their children’s life. Some dads are not in the home, but provide a great example of father hood in shared agreements and responsibilities. All absent fathers are not equal, but they are all in the same circle. The issue is not one of how to judge absent fathers, but rather how do we rescue and rebuild the lives of children in need.

What can we do? How do American men respond? How does the church react to the need? How will 1 in 3 children get the counsel and the confidence they need from a father figure in their life?

We need men of all shapes, sizes, ages, and experiences to see every fatherless child as a part of their family. No exceptions. Fathering must become our highest and most valued vocational calling or in a few years this statistic will double because momentum is on the side of fathers being absent from the home. The primary action is to call, equip, and support every father to be successful in being a father. No one can do “daddy” better than the “daddy” of a child. Fathering is not restricted by lack of money, lack of education, or lack of need. It is only restricted when their is a lack of commitment, concern, and/or character. Every father needs to expect their sons to be good fathers. Every brother needs to encourage their brother to be active in their kids lives. Every friend needs to hold their bros accountable for how they take care of their children and show themselves present and accounted for. Every church needs to teach men how to not only be Christian men, but be good fathers as both roles honor God and strengthen the family.

But we need a back up plan also. The call must go out to those who are not biological fathers of children in your neighborhood or church. You may not have planned on being a father, but children need you to make an adjustment to your plans and get in the game. Maybe you need to sign up to be their mentor. Maybe you need to coach them in baseball, teach them in Sunday School, take them on a camp out, or help them finish high school. Some will need you to become their foster dad and perhaps their adoptive father as over 400,000 are waiting in the foster care system today. Some will need you to come along side later in their life as an adult youth to help them know how to keep a job, how to manage money, how to be reconciled through forgiveness, how to account for mistakes, and how to start their own family the right way and with the best of intentions to follow through. Every man in every community is the back up plan for fathering the children of our country and we need to see this as a critical pro life cause in our generation.

Unplanned fathering does not require course work or membership dues. It only requires the best of faith, hope, and love that a man can give to a child in need. Expertise is not required in this kind of fathering nor is it necessary to consider yourself a hero for stepping in. Don’t see yourself as a world changer. Just be content to be the change that a child needs to not only avoid crisis, but to acquire the certainty that they can make it and make it successfully. Don’t pursue thanks or tokens of appreciation. Be celebrated by the achievement of the kid that you poured your life into even if your fathering was unplanned. Having kids doesn’t make you a father. Raising them in the right way does.

Everyday is Father’s Day. Not for celebration, but for work because fathering is hard work. But its the best kind of hard work we will never get paid for. Don’t plan on earning anything as a dad. Let the agenda and the slate remain open and clean. The best kind of gain is that which you don’t plan on receiving. It is found money or found freedom. Unplanned fathering will bring great gain into the life of a man, but nothing like it will bring into the life of a child. As children are a gift from the Lord to fathers (Psalm 127:3) so fathers are a gift into the lives of every child in every generation (Exodus 20:12).

Please adjust your plans today. Take time to think about what kid needs you. If it is your child that needs you to step up your game as a father then do it and don’t worry about how you failed in the past. If it is a niece or a nephew, a cousin, or a sibling that needs you to step in and be the father figure then go for it and don’t look back. Perhaps it is a sibling group in your neighborhood or an only child on your baseball team that needs someone to mentor them into maturity. Maybe there is a grown man in the cubicle next to you who never knew his father and needs your mature and balanced voice in their life. Make yourself available to any child/youth/adult that needs your fathering input and then see what God does with your willing spirit.

Regardless of the plans you have for your life it just might be that God has other plans for you to consider. Based on who He is I am certain that He wants us to be all that we can be for kids in crisis. The most God honoring thing we may ever do with our life is to be a father to the fatherless in our generation. Make sure to plan your availability for the redemptive role that God has for you. The plans that you make for yourself are small in comparison to the plans He has for you. Unplan your plans so that God can reroute your work/calling in life to intersect with a kid in need. Could it be that this new role just might be the one that you have been searching for all of your life and that a kid has been waiting and waiting for you to step into it as their unplanned father?  God loves it when that kind of plan comes together.

Mother’s Day Revisited

We all have a mother. There is no getting around it. Having a mother is an intricate part of the procreating process that God dreamed into our earthly reality. While I know that science and social experimentation have tweaked the birthing process since it was first introduced, the genetics of a mother are still required. Without a mother there is no baby. The same is true of a father, but I digress.

What happens following birth though is greatly different from child to child. Some will be placed in their mother’s arms and held tightly until they leave home as grown ups. Others will never be cradled by mom and will long for her touch. Others will find warmth, nurture, and tenderness in the arms of another mother and be forever grateful for her role in their life. Many will reflect on their mother’s touch as hot or cold or as accepting or rejecting. Mothers come in all shapes and sizes as well as perspectives and practices. Hopefully we can all appreciate our mother for who she is rather than what she did for mothers are real people in our life and not just providers of our next meal.

Yesterday across the country millions of people stopped to thank mom. Flowers, cards, gifts, and expensive meals were provided as a gesture of appreciation. Christian congregations ordered their liturgy to reflect on mothers and how they are gifts of God to children and to the family. Sports teams and entertainment venues marketed Mother’s Day as a great time to come out to the ball park or come into the concert hall. Parks and backyards were full of families eating and laughing who get together only two or three times a year to catch up and refocus on the family. Mom was the MVP, MOP, GOAT, and the GDP all in one yesterday and rightfully so. Yesterday was a day for mom to rest, reflect, be revered, and rejoice at the work of her hands. It was her day of reward.

But that was yesterday.

Today is a day for mom to go back to work. You have 364 days until your next free day and every one of them will count. So let’s make the most of the next year. I am writing to every mom on behalf of every kid so read carefully and apply where appropriate.

Mom’s we need you to…

  • Help us to smile, laugh, breathe, and skip. Life takes that away from us at every chance.
  • Remind us of how much you love us, pray for us, and appreciate us. Sometimes you are the only one who does.
  • Teach us to mind our manners, eat right, and behave ourselves. We forget those things that you taught us so long ago.
  • Recount for us the story of our birth and beginnings. That will help orient us time and time again in life when we are lost or confused. Heritage is way more valuable than we sometimes think.
  • Be a person of real faith and certainty that God is at work in all things. No matter what seems to be taking place.
  • Stop worrying about us. Advise us and encourage us, but worry, anxiety, and heart burn only hurts you and us.
  • Show us how to forgive and faithfully love those who hurt us. No one forgives like a mother so teach us please.
  • Stop chasing our childhood and help us navigate adulthood. It is a jungle out here and you know the way. Show us like you showed us how to tie a shoe or wash behind our ears.
  • Take care of yourself. Not with cosmetics and clothes or fads and follies that adorn your outward appearance. Take care of the inside of you – your heart, your mind, your soul. Those are the treasures most important to your children.
  • Tell us that we are smart, we are kind, and we are important. (Thanks Aibileen!) That is all that we ever really need to know as children and you are the greatest source of it on earth.
  • Never give up on us. We are still growing up sometimes even at 44.  🙂

I will likely think of other things for your mom “to do” list, but that is a start. Don’t try and conquer all of it today or this week. Pace yourself as you get back to work. Don’t be overwhelmed by the load. You are a mom and God has made you just a little lower than a super hero (but a much better cook (probably.) You’ve got this and you getting this will make all the difference in us.

We love you. Hopefully it won’t take another year to say that. Let’s talk soon. Now get to work so we can go back to being kids.

Is God Fair?

justice

Nearly everyday, I go for a walk. I do it for me, and I do it for my doggie because exercise is good for us. It is time well spent. I also do it for my neighbors and the cars that drive through the neighborhood because every time I walk, I pick up nails, glass and construction debris that would cause great mischief to tires or shoes. One little nail in the tire can cost between $5 and $500 to repair or replace a tire(s). One little nail in the shoe might cause a more expensive trip to the ER. That is money most of us don’t plan to expend for transportation or medical care.

Today I picked up 5 nails/screws that had fallen off of construction trucks and lay waiting in the street to ruin somebody’s day. Usually I pick up 2 or 3. Add it all up, multiply it, divide by 2, and I think over the last 3 years I have picked up 1,000 nails, screws and sharp things. That is a lot of tires I have saved. That is a lot of money I have kept in the pockets of the families of Northpointe. That is a job well done by a boy on a walk with his dog. Since I have “paid it forward” for nearly 3 years, surely God will make sure I never get a nail in my tire or my foot. That just wouldn’t be right. That would not be just – not fair – at all.

Except that my wife just called, and we have 2 tires that need to be replaced because of nails, screws and sharp things. The cost will be $475 for two tires replaced and balanced. That is just my luck! Where is the justice? How could God let this happen to me? This isn’t fair at all!

When we think that by doing something good we are preventing something bad from happening, we are not pursuing a path of justice. That is a path of karma. Karma and justice often get mixed together when we are considering or commenting on things happening in life. Most often we think that if something happens to someone bad, that justice was served. In ministry we will think that by serving God we are due for reward (or at least for protection from harm or hurtful happenings). That might be thought of as justice by many people, but it is more like karma and karma is a false philosophy. So don’t buy into it.

Most of the time we have our definition of justice all wrong. Justice is not about being fair or making things fair in life. Justice is not a new fangled political action or platform on which to build your identity. Justice is not a about keeping or upholding the legal letter of the law, and finally Justice is not (merely) a clothing store for tween girls.

Justice – God’s justice – is a whole other cool thing. And just to be clear, the pursuit of justice is not something new that was birthed in this millennium by hipster Christians. Justice – God’s brand  of justice – is as old as Israel and as modern as the new heaven and the new earth on the horizon. This kind of justice is rooted in God, but branched out through Christian action and witness. We don’t own or control God’s justice. Instead, we act on behalf of just causes that matter to our just God. Causes like water, earth, orphans, world peace, sanctity of life and the homeless are near the heart of God and therefore are to be near the heart and hands of Christ followers. Justice is not an “add on” to the Christian life. It comes standard in how we join ourselves together with other believers in mission and ministry.

Acting justly in our world is not about creating a climate where everything is fair, or whereby doing good we prevent harm from coming our way. Justice is about working to make things right that have been wrong. The work of justice in a religious sense is about acting rightly in a situation where wrong has been done. Acting justly is acting righteously with purpose, conviction and cause. It is setting to right what has been turned or twisted in life. When we do work in a just way, we are setting aside our own claims to privilege or profit for the purpose of guaranteeing that others receive equity when they can not claim it for themselves.

The focus of our work is to make the world a better place by announcing that God’s righteous kingdom has come. We are to be both a righteous witness and a righteous warrior for others who are caught in the weight of the world so they may encounter our just God in ways they never before thought possible. Likewise, we are to band together in Christian unity and say enough to the powers that be in our world who make victims of so many people, places and things.  To be clear though, it is not our justice or American justice or any other brand of organized justice that we are working to provide. It is the justice of God who desires to fix broken things, help broken people, restore broken families, redeem broken governments. He is not just a “fix it” God. He is a righteous Father who by His very nature restores order, reclaims the lost, and recreates beauty in our lives. No matter what sentence life has pronounced over us or over those we serve, God’s justice speaks love and mercy into us and into them, causing us/them to turn away from what is wrong in life and turn into God to receive Him fully.

Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.

For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.

The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.

The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
(Psalm 37:27-34)

Justice is precisely what God is doing to bring His kingdom into the world’s view because justice is who He is. When we see or hear justice planted into dysfunction we are witnesses to one of God’s mighty acts. The grace of our Lord poured out for us preaches justice in the desperation of all people. Even those who don’t know they are desperate benefit from the justice of God announced in the ministry of Jesus and carried forward in the work of the church through the ages. When we care for the orphan (and the widow), we are joining God in his justice mission by helping kids and strengthening the family. When we protect the unborn we are joining God is his life giving work to the world of a new gifted generation. When we oppose slavery, speak up to protect/preserve marriage and appropriate family structures, pick up those in poverty, shelter those who are homeless, give water to the thirsty, preserve both the beautiful and the ugly places of the world for another generation, we are agents of justice in an unjust world bent on turning in on itself. Speaking up for and doing justice work for the kingdom of God and that is a calling worthy of our full pursuit and investment.

Is God fair? Maybe. Are some lucky to be born into faith? Probably, but those are the wrong questions to be asking about God. Those questions are more about us than they are about Him. Is God righteous and just? Absolutely! And the more you grow to know Him, the more you will trust in Him to bring righteousness and justice – His righteous, life giving justice – into your world.

Thanks be to God for calling us to such a place in such a time as this. There are so many causes and conflicts waiting for a bold witness to speak faith, hope and love into chaos and confusion. May the righteousness of Christ flow through us in a just way so we may work for justice for those hoping to see a sign from God in their life. Let this be a week/month/year where we see clearly what our calling is so that we are certain in what we our being poured out for.