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Fighting For Your Family

Dads In Charge

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | May 19, 2013

Selected highlights from this sermon

What is the father’s role in the home? A plethora of bad examples are around us, modeling passivity and abusiveness. But what does God say about fatherhood? 

Drawing from Genesis 2 and other texts, Pastor Lutzer explains God’s view on what fatherhood should look like. From leading prayer and instituting Christian education, to seeing to physical needs and serving as a protector, a father is to be the hub of godly activity in the home.

Fathers: are you setting the tone in your homes? Are you modeling the Christian fervency that your family needs?

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There is a story about a couple that was out to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Both the man and wife were sixty years old. An angel appeared to them and said, “What would you like for your anniversary?” The wife said, “Oh, I’ve never traveled. I’d love to travel.” The angel flashed his sword and instantly in her hand were two tickets for an around-the-world cruise.

It was the man’s turn. He took the angel aside and said, “You know, I’d really like to be married to someone who is thirty years younger than I am.” [laughter] Immediately the angel flashed his sword and instantly the man was 90 years old. [laughter]

And that’s the man I’m speaking about today, the man and the family. This is message number three in a series of messages entitled Fighting for Your Family, and we do have to fight today because the enemies of the family are huge. In fact, in future messages I’m going to talk about the enemies inside the home and the enemies outside the home. My, how we have to fight.

But today I am talking about dads. And remember in this series of messages we are expecting transformation, even as we prayed during our day of prayer and fasting. We prayed for prodigals. We prayed for those who have addictions. And as you pray and seek God, we’re going to pray for restoration and help within your family, and that things will be different—the miracle within us and the miracle other people also need. God is able, and we are trusting Him for that.

Before I begin, I want to remind you of the pain of the fatherlessness in our homes. Remember that twenty million children will go to bed tonight with only one parent in the home, probably the mother. There’ll be no father. David Meece wrote:

Sometimes at night I’d lie awake

Longing inside for my father’s embrace

Sometimes at night I’d wander downstairs

And pray he’d returned, but no one was there.


Oh, how I’d cry, a child all alone

Waiting for him to come home.

My father’s chair, sat in an empty room

My father’s chair, covered with sheets of gloom

My father’s chair through all the years

And all the tears I cried in vain

No one was there in my father’s chair.[1]


Hear their cry. At the end of this message, I am going to be giving practical advice to all of us, whether we’re fathers, whether we’re single, whether we’re mothers, in terms of restoration. This is critical. Absolutely critical.

Now I don’t need to delineate for you, do I, the great consequences of fatherlessness? In fact, obviously kids who grow up without a father are more susceptible to sexuality at early ages, drugs, and all of the other things their peers are doing in school. And the problem is that the cycle is repeated over and over again. Today, in the name of God, if you are in that cycle, it’s going to stop, and you’re going to be headed in a brand new direction.

The passage of Scripture I’ve chosen for where we begin is Genesis 2, and we begin there because this is the Owner’s manual. And fathers, I want you to realize the tremendous power you have. When you walk into a room, remember this, and your children are there, they are either diminished because of your presence or they are enhanced. And there are two ways that fathers sometimes destroy their families even, if they are in the home. One way is to be there physically but emotionally disconnected, uncommunicative, passive. The other way is to be selfish and overbearing and inconsistent in discipline, and possibly also abusive. So fathers, this is for you, but as we shall see at the end of the message, it’s for everyone.

May I remind you of the first message I preached in this series? We emphasized the fact that in Genesis 2 it says in verse 7 that God formed the man. He obviously formed him first. Verses 16 and 17 say it is to Adam that the command goes that you may eat of the fruit of all the trees of the garden except the tree that is in the middle—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve is not given that command. Now Adam tells her, as he should. We discover that in Genesis 3. Adam gets to name his wife and he calls her “woman.” And when they sin, who is it that God goes to first? He goes to Adam. That’s in [Genesis] 3:9.

God hunts out the man. Why? And here’s where we begin today about the role of the man in the family. Now I need to say at the outset that the Bible doesn’t actually just have a job description for the woman—the wife and the mother—and a job description for the man, but it paints out in broad strokes their individual roles. And of course we need the rest of the Bible to fill in some of the details, and we will do that in just a few moments. But I want you to notice that, first off, Adam actually has spiritual leadership responsibility for his wife. It is he whom God holds accountable. And as you read the rest of the Old Testament, you discover that the man was to be the priest of the family. He’s the one who offered the sacrifices. He was there during the Seder. He was given leadership because God is putting responsibility for that family squarely on the shoulders of the man.

Translated into modern terms: It should be the man who should be the one who should be praying for his wife and initiating it. It should be the man in the household who makes sure that the kids are being taught the Bible, giving them instruction. It should be the man who should be the one [on] Sunday morning helping his family get ready as he leads them to church. That doesn’t mean he has to do all of the teaching. His wife may be a better teacher than he is, and maybe she’ll do the bulk of the teaching, but she does so under the encouragement, the strength, and the direction of the man whom God has placed in that household—the man that God holds accountable.

Now what happens in many homes is the father washes his hands, he gives responsibility to his wife, to the church, and he’s spiritually disconnected. Is it any wonder that the statistics indicate that so many children, today, growing up in the church eventually leave the faith, because, “If God is not important to Dad, why should God be important to me?” And God squarely, in the Bible, puts the responsibility of the leadership within the home on the father. The church can help, but it can only help. It cannot take the place of Dad in the home. And Dad, if you are wondering what it is that you should teach to your children, you’ll notice that each of these messages has an assignment. And one of the assignments I give you is to read Proverbs 2. Really you should read all of Proverbs, but read the opening chapters of Proverbs and find out what the father teaches his son.

Throughout that book, you have the father saying, “My son, do this and this.” And what is he doing? He’s teaching his son to trust God with all of his heart. He’s teaching him about the fear of the Lord. He’s teaching him about financial responsibility. The Bible says, “And honor the Lord with your substance that it may go well with you.” Teach them about money. Teach them about their friends. The book of Proverbs is filled with warnings about bad friends. I’ve had so many parents say to me, “You know, he was a good kid, but he got wrapped up in the wrong people in school.” Well, I understand that, but where are the warnings? Where are the safeguards within the home, Dad, for which God holds you accountable? So that’s where you have it.

Now, Dad is often absent because he’s working. He has other responsibilities. Maybe he even travels, but he makes sure that it’s being done. He is a partner with his wife whom he loves, and he is a partner with the mother, and he stands together with her. Number one is spiritual leadership shared within the home under Dad’s good direction and leadership.

Let’s look at the fact that he has to be a provider. I won’t go into the text here too deeply because we’re going to get to some areas that are very important to all of us in just a moment, and this is important too, of course. You’ll notice it says [in Genesis 3], “By the sweat of your face [verses 18–19], thorns and thistles it [the land] shall bring forth...and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Clearly the responsibility of the man is to provide for his family, and in those days, the way you did it was to work out in the field. Now we live in an entirely different environment. With our situation, very few of us work out in the field. I was born on a farm where we worked out in the field. I always hoped I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life there, but that’s where it began. But nonetheless, the father still has responsibility. Now there may be, at times, a reversal of roles out of necessity. I understand that. And maybe the father doesn’t have to work. Maybe he inherited some money. Maybe he, God forbid, won the Powerball or something like that. Most people who do that, by the way, get into huge trouble. But nonetheless, he has responsibility that the needs of his family are cared for. Dad is there for them. And instead of expecting his wife to take responsibility, he does. Oftentimes that doesn’t happen in the home.

Do you ever wonder why it is that men like the television zapper (the remote control)? It’s because to a man, even a remote control is really better than none at all. So oftentimes that’s his role.

Let me give you a third point, and that is that he has to be the spiritual gatekeeper. You say, “Well, where do you find that in the text?” Well, think for example about Adam. You see, the serpent comes to get his family, to get his wife, and the reason God holds him [Adam] accountable is because it says in Genesis 3:6–7 expressly that Eve took the fruit of the tree and gave to her husband who was with her.

I’ve often wondered to myself if the first sin was not Eve eating the fruit of the tree, but rather the passivity of Adam who stood there watching the serpent seduce his wife and doing nothing about it. That’s why God holds him accountable. He was to be the spiritual gatekeeper.

Fathers, when there are attacks against the family, when there is bullying in school, what you do is you become involved, and it may be your child who is doing the bullying, so you straighten that out. You take responsibility for what is happening in your family. And all of us must do that. Dad, there are so many attacks against the family: there are addictions, there are all kinds of ways in which your children are under attack today. And what you and I must do is to ask God for wisdom to be the man in the house, to be emotionally and spiritually engaged in the life of my family. That’s what God is calling us to.

Have you ever thought why it is that on television the father is always displayed as sort of a wimpy man who doesn’t know anything? He’s sort of ignorant and everybody kind of makes jokes about Dad. Think it through. If this serpent who attacked the first family is interested in the destruction of our families, and he most assuredly is, where is he going to go for his attack? He’s going to attack Dad. And you see it’s because we live in a time when many men can’t seem to assume this role for many different reasons. Maybe, number one, it’s because they’ve had some bad models to follow, or no model at all, and they don’t know what that role is really like. Well, one of the reasons we have family ministries here at The Moody Church is to help you to find that and to get on track.

Another reason is because of the confusion of roles. We don’t know what we’re supposed to be. In our society, where you have men supposedly being more like women, and women being more like men to the destruction of the family, men don’t know what it’s like to be a man. And so they think that being a man is to be tough and to be harsh, and they have no idea about manhood being both strong, but also sensitive and loving and caring. They don’t know what it’s like to be a man.

And then there’s another reason, and this ought to break our hearts, and that is if a man is living with unconquered sin, if he is living with an addiction, it’s going to be very difficult for him to guide his family spiritually, so he feels himself paralyzed. Men, this comes from my heart to yours. If that describes you, would you go for help? There are ministries here in the church—men’s ministries and other kinds of ministries that can help you because you cannot be bogged down by the condemnation of Satan and at the same time have the freedom to instruct your family spiritually and in other ways for which God holds you and me as fathers, responsible.

As I was thinking of the power of the family, I’d like to give you three objects that will help us define the power of the family. The first object that I want to mention is that we are a mirror. The way in which children perceive themselves, the way in which the wife perceives herself is dependent on how we perceive them. A child will think of himself in terms of how his father thinks of him. If his father honors him, encourages him, stands by his side, he’ll see himself as valuable and having an ally in a very cruel world. If a father sees the child as a nuisance, as someone who just takes his money because he has to be fed and clothed, if he sees his son or daughter as someone who is intruding on his time, can you even imagine the impact that that has on a child? The child perceives himself to be what the father perceives him to be. After all, embedded in the heart and mind of a child is this: “Dad must be right.” And if he’s abusive, “I must deserve what I’m getting.” Oh father, you are a mirror. Reflect back to your family positive images of encouragement and help, and stand with them.

Another way to describe it is that you are a thermostat. What temperature is your home going to be at? There are some homes where there is just chaos and there is arguing. I remember talking to a guy who said, “Every disagreement in our house ended up in a fight.” Well, where was Dad? Where was Dad saying, “We have to honor one another and respect one another; we have to resolve conflict; we have to love one another” and modeling it in his own life and in his own relationship with his wife and kids? Where is that father? Because he’s the thermostat. And if your home is a cold place where secrets have to be kept, and where they have to be stuffed into the soul and where shame is often used for motivation, in a home like that, Dad, you are accountable because you and I are the thermostat.

There’s another way, and that is to say that we also are a compass. Are we going in the right direction? Are we leading our families correctly to more spiritual understanding and a great sense of direction and leadership so that the family knows they can depend on Dad?

Now I’m going to ask you to turn to another passage. This is one, that if we do not understand, we will always have tension in the home, we will have tension among ourselves, and it is very instructive as to what God thinks of family conflict. It’s found at the end of the Old Testament, in the book of Malachi. In chapter 4 this is what it says in verses 5 and 6. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

God says if our homes are not reconciled—if fathers are not restored to their children, and children to their fathers, it is an ultimate judgment. What does that say to us here in America? What does it say to us as a nation where our homes are crumbling and where the attacks against the family are everywhere, especially in the media and even among our politicians? Where does that leave us? We should weep for our families.

Now I promised you that I was going to give you steps that you can take. No matter where you are as a father or as someone who isn’t a father (you’re a single or you’re a teenager) or whether you are a man or a woman, it makes no difference. What steps must all of us take to fulfill this verse? Let me give them to you very simply.

Step number one is we must be reconciled to our own fathers. You say, “Reconciled to my father? My father left the home.” I’m thinking of a little girl. Let’s take a moment to feel the pain. She’s about eight years old and her father comes into her bedroom and says, “You know, I’m leaving. I’m going to live with somebody else, but don’t worry. I’ll come and visit you from time to time.” The little girl is dissolving in tears. The father walks out of the room and that’s the last time the little girl sees her daddy. It’s happening all over America in different ways all the time.

So you are saying, “What do you mean by being reconciled to your own father?” You can be reconciled to your own father without his permission or involvement. For some of you, you need to be reconciled to a father who has long since died, and you are still bearing within yourself the effects of how he parented you.

So how do we go about being restored to our parents, especially our father? First of all, accept reality and the truth. Just accept it. I have here a story of a young man who writes to his brother and says, “As for your concern about Dad, that’s a big issue, and I don’t know where to start. I can tell you that I’ve spent a long time in therapy dealing with it and I’m just now getting to some closure on it. It has affected me a great deal. And I know that for sure, Dad’s not going to change. I have a hard time accepting that. I’ve spent my life setting myself up to receive some little acknowledgement or blessing, only to be disappointed each time. Somewhere along the way I stopped trying. I’ll always miss him though. There will always be a hollow place inside of me where love and acceptance from him should have been. This I can never change.”

He has to make peace with his father. He’s taken the first step in accepting reality. It’s so hard for children who’ve gone through a difficult experience with a father. Now, of course, I hope that many of you, as you listen to this, say, “I had a good father.”

I had a good father—an imperfect father, because all fathers are woefully imperfect—but a good father. But you say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, mine was an alcoholic, mine was abusive, mine was distant, mine left the family,” and on and on it goes. You must make peace with your father. You must face the reality because, remember, whatever you don’t forgive, you pass on. Wow.

All right, number one: You face the reality. Number two: You mourn the loss. It’s okay to cry about your past, if that’s what you need to do. And the reason you cry is because it could have been so different. There were longings you had as a child that were never fulfilled. You could weep over those. Feel free to weep. You know, if you lost an arm, we wouldn’t criticize you for crying. Some of you, God bless you, my heart aches for you because you’ve lost your childhood as a result of your father. And so as a result of that, you face the loss and you accept it and recognize that things will not change. It is what it is despite the pain. And then what you choose to do is you really do choose to forgive and lay it down.

And how do you and I forgive? Our standard is: We want to forgive others even as Jesus forgave us. Aren’t you glad for the fact that Jesus freely forgave us? Isn’t that wonderful? Is it not our responsibility to forgive as we’re forgiven, with or without our father’s cooperation? We hope that there can be reconciliation, but in many instances there can’t be. And so what we choose to do is we say, “No longer am I going to be defined by my pain.”

Now I’m going to speak to you candidly. Pretend I’m not speaking to a large crowd as I am today, but rather you’re in my office and we’re looking at each other eye to eye and this is just between us. This is what I would say: “It’s so important that, when you think about the past, you don’t focus on the fact that all of your wounds have to be healed.” You see, the problem is, with you and with me, we feel our wounds much more keenly than we feel our sin. Therefore we don’t necessarily see that the real issue God has in mind, my friend, is holiness—a pursuit of God, with or without healing.

As I was preparing this message, I was reminded of a time when I had the opportunity to speak many times during the Promise Keepers era. And I was speaking to large stadium of at least ten or fifteen thousand people, and I was explaining all of this to them, and then I gave an invitation. Hundreds of men came forward. Hundreds—I don’t know how many—but I remember all throughout the front, men were weeping and crying up to God. And I remember one man who was sitting or was standing in this part of the crowd [motions with his left hand] and he kept saying, “Dad, I forgive you. Dad, I forgive you.” And I hope and pray that was the beginning for those men to finally come to realize that their past should not define them, and even if some left, still with their wounds, they should know they could be men of God no matter how they were parented because, as we learned in the first message, wherever sins abounds, there’s also grace alongside of sin.

You know, you look at the Old Testament and the New Testament and there are very few examples of great parenting. There are some, but just think of Abraham. Now remember his parents were pagans, and I think, by God’s grace and sovereignty, he turned out pretty good, actually. I think of Moses, for example. He was raised by a single woman (the princess) who was a sun worshiper, and look at what God did through Moses. You know, in the Old Testament there’s a man by the name of Ahaz. He was not a righteous king by any stretch of the imagination, and yet Ahaz, who did evil in the sight of the Lord, had a son by the name of Hezekiah. And the Bible says that Hezekiah walked in all the ways of the Lord and served the Lord all the days of his life. And you say, “Wait a moment. Look at his father.” If you have the faith to believe it, I encourage you to step out today and believe and trust God that you can be reconciled to your father and your past need not define your future because God is a God of grace. [applause]

It might be unrealistic for me to give an invitation here today as was given at Promise Keepers, but I can’t help but think that up in the balcony, and listening by other means over the internet and the radio, there would be hundreds of people, maybe thousands, who say, “This message is for me. I am sick and tired of pursuing healing for my wounds as if that’s the greatest goal.” The greatest goal is to glorify God and to seek Him. And despite all your imperfections and your inadequacies, who knows what God will do when you step out in faith and say, “Lord, help me to be the father that I should be.” So that’s a message for all of us, isn’t it? We all have to be reconciled to our parents—boys, girls, men, women.

But now I’m speaking to the fathers once again directly. Suppose you’ve done that. What is the next step that you as a father should do? Well the next step is restoration—the restoration of broken relationships. Dad, you have to take the initiative here. You know the Bible says in 1 Peter 3:7, “Husbands, live with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto them as being the weaker vessel so that your prayers will not be hindered.” What hinders prayer? Unresolved relationships. Dad, you have to take the initiative.

I hope it’s okay that I give a personal illustration. One time one of our daughters wrote me a letter and indicated what she appreciated about growing up in our home and specifically about me. And it wasn’t about, “Dad, I just love those sermons that you preached,” or “You know I read your books.” No, she said, the thing that stands out most is that whenever I [Pastor Lutzer] was wrong, I would be quick to go to them and ask for their forgiveness.

And I was wrong many times: inconsistent discipline, discipline in anger, blaming the wrong child. [laughter] I’ll tell you. I’ve done it all, and so do you.

What children are looking for is an honest dad who will say, “I have wronged you. I have not done right by you. I ask your forgiveness.” Begin there because the text says, “Fathers to children; children to fathers—lest I strike the earth with a curse,” as one translation put it. We’re dealing here with huge issues within the family.

And then, of course, concentrate on the fatherhood of God. The Bible says that He is a father to the fatherless. Now there’s a promise that you can hang on to. And David said, “Even when my father and my mother forsake me the Lord will pick me up.” God is our Father if we know Christ as Savior.

One of the most beautiful words in the English language, I think, is the word “father.” I also like the word “dad.” I love to send my kids a card, or if I email them, I always sign it “Dad.” And I love the word “dad.” What an honor. And remember we have a Father in heaven, and we cry up and we say, “Abba, Father,” a term of endearment. Is there anything more precious than that? That’s whom you pursue. You pursue God. Jesus, in fact, taught us to pray, did He not, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name?” And He revolutionized even the understanding of the Old Testament by affirming such incredible intimacy.

Jesus also gave an example of God the Father by telling a parable about a boy who ran away from home. The father welcomed him back without a lot of questions. He said, “Bring a ring and put it on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and give him a robe, and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it, for this my son was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.”

That’s exactly what God will do for you today if you come to Jesus Christ. You’ll be welcomed into His family, but you have to come through Jesus because He’s the only one who is the Savior who died that we might be converted, and that we might be able to be forgiven and stand perfectly before God. God is able to change your circumstances by changing you (and me) if we are willing to give Him our hearts.

Are you weary? Jesus said, “Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” And even your family can experience that rest in Christ because God is our Father.

Would you join me as we pray?

Our Father, as we have looked over the responsibilities, how we deeply repent because all of us have been such imperfect fathers. All of us. But Father we cleave to you and to your grace and to your mercy.

Before I close this prayer, I’m talking now to the congregation. How many are out there that say, “Pastor Lutzer, I think this message is for me; I have some business to do within my family?” Could you raise your hands please? Even in the balcony? Many of you have raised your hands, many of you who should have, perhaps haven’t.

Father, whatever you’ve told us today, help us to be obedient, and we pray that many may be able to say, “Our Father, who is in heaven.” We pray in His blessed name, Amen.


[1] Editor’s Note: The original quote by Pastor Lutzer were not official lyrics. The lyrics here have been inserted from David Meece’s website.


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