This is the season for thinking about the family. What with Mother’s Day behind us and Father’s Day fast approaching, and vacations and family outings ahead of us, we are in the season where our thoughts go to sentimentality and pleasant thoughts about those who have been blessed (or is the word challenged appropriate) to not only give us life, but to sacrifice of themselves in order to put bread on the table, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our carcasses.
While I know that many families are not traditional – whatever that means, the concept of family support still dominates the minds and hearts of most of us. How many of our family members have gone to countless numbers of school plays, field trips, concerts, PTO meetings, athletic games, science fairs, scholastic competitions, pep rallies, bonfires, youth retreats, and high school assemblies? Not only that, but they have praised us when we’ve been obedient, disciplined us when we’ve been disobedient, encouraged us when we’ve been down, nursed us when we’ve been sick, hugged us when we’ve been sad, challenged us when we’ve been wrong, and loved us through it all.
Being a father has been one of the greatest privileges of my life, and having traveled that rough road has been one of the most challenging experiences I will no doubt ever undertake. My own father died before I became a dad, so I did not have his wisdom to glean from, or his experience to model. My only model for fatherhood was the collection of memories I could recall from my own childhood. I remember my Dad taking time to teach me how to ride a bike and how to repair a lawn mower. Oh, how patient he was – especially when the mower still would not start and I had parts left over. I remember him taking me with him when he went on business trips when he was able to do so, including one time when a fellow was attempting to get his business for his small charter plane service. Dad and I went for the first time on a plane ride in a small Cessna airplane.
But one of my most vivid memories of my father was the day I went to court to answer for a speeding ticket. I was only 16 and was very new to this whole driving scene. It is not done this way these days, but back then the judge called me into his private office just to talk. As we talked, the judge spoke to me about how much of a privilege driving was, and how important it was to drive responsibly and safely. He then told me that the fine would be $40. Somehow, I had expected the fine to be suspended for the first offense, so I was surprised when that judgment was proclaimed – and also, unprepared. My wallet was empty. Then this big hand clasped down on my shoulder and my father’s voice proclaimed, “I’ve got it, son.”
My father, whom I had left in the reception area of the judge’s office, had quietly followed me into the judge’s private chambers, and was standing in the shadows behind me, unheard and unseen by me. He had overheard the entire discussion between me and the judge. He then paid my fine for me. As we left that office, he did not berate me. He did not bawl me out. He did not even tell me he was going to take the money out of my hide. And he never spoke of that day again. My Father paid the penalty for my sin, and never looked back.
Some years ago in a publication entitled “Fingertip Facts” the following thoughts were written about the family: “A place of warmth when the world is cold; a place of safety when the world is hostile; a place of light when the world is dark – this is a family… It is the core around which great nations are built. It is the foundation of any great society. A family is many things: a family is love around the dinner table, devotion walking to church together, friendship laughing under the same roof. A family is mother singing in the kitchen, father whistling around the house, children playing in the yard. A family is a light on the front porch on a dark night. A family is happy songs around a piano… A family is a cheering section when a victory is won; a family is a very private organization.
“Rudyard Kipling once wrote about families, ‘All of us are we – and everyone else is they.’ A family shares things like dreams, hopes, possessions, memories, smiles, frowns, and gladness… A family is a clan held together with the glue of love and the cement of mutual respect. A family is shelter from the storm, a friendly port when the waves of life become too wild. No person is ever alone who is a member of a family.”
That day in that judge’s office, before that hand grabbed my shoulder, I was feeling quite alone and somewhat desperate. But my father brought the concept of family home to me.
I know that for many who may read these words, this concept of family may be foreign to you. But what should be true in every home should also be true in every church. Made up of individual believers who know the truth as seen in Jesus Christ the Son of God, the church is indeed the family of God (check out John 8:34-36). God wants to set you free. Jesus Christ paid the fine for your sin for you, so you do not have to. All you have to do is to trust Him. In doing so, you become a part of the family of God.
God bless, and Happy Father’s Day!
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.