The Greatest of All Father’s Day Gifts

One of the pastors at The Crossing caught me off guard one time by very bluntly telling me that I was “just about the least-likely Christian” he had ever met: “And heck, let’s be honest, Warren…if you came to faith in Christ, then there is all kinds of hope for the rest of us…and that includes every single one of your kids.”

I was emotionally overwrought at the time and not processing information as efficiently as I normally would; it would be several days before I comprehended just how badly I had been insulted (though in the nicest possible way). Perhaps more importantly, though, it would take some time for it to dawn on me what a huge statement had been made about the loving fatherhood we all share in God, and how His good plan for the redemption of His people in no way hinged on me or my feeble efforts at obedience, which I somehow found oddly reassuring.

The primary focus of that particular conversation had been on how someone like me ended up having the heart of a father in the first place, carrying with it a deep-seated desire for all of my children to come to know the Lord early on in life, before they have caused any significant destruction to themselves and others (3 John 1:4). Picking up on my pastor’s sentiments regarding God’s raw power to convert unbelievers, then, I think it may be safe to say that in many ways I am a very unlikely father, too. In some sense, perhaps we all are, especially when compared to His standards.

2010 yielded a fairly bizarre Father’s Day for me in that the days, weeks and months leading up to it have been accompanied by a series of progressing goodbyes, some of them more emotional than others. On June 12, for instance, I put one of my much-loved “daughters” on a flight back to Los Angeles, with absolutely zero in the way of reassurance that I will ever see her again, though I certainly hope to. Almost exactly one week later, I watched as three more of my daughters – along with my wife – headed off to a weeklong mission trip in Harmons, Jamaica. Far more devastating than these two, however, is the one that took place about 19 months ago wherein I “lost” my fatherhood status altogether with yet another much-loved daughter, one who does not happen to carry with her any of my DNA.

So, depending on how you do the math, there are seven children roaming the planet who can call me “Dad” in one sense or another. I’ve actually fathered only two of them biologically, but nevertheless all seven carry a significant piece of my heart with them wherever they go, whether they realize it or not. Since the age range of these seven kids is 3 to 19, you can safely guess that there have been multiple occasions where Shelly and I did not see eye-to-eye with one or more of them, occasionally with no small amount of acrimony. Increasingly, we have had to “let go” and allow some of them to make a few of the same mistakes that we have made in life. Honestly, mixed in with great amounts of joy, parenting is often agonizing.

In the middle of all this, though, I can still vividly recall how my own early experiences as a father were (in hindsight) the “slow leak” that ultimately destroyed any ability I had to hang onto atheism. I didn’t plan it that way, of course, but the undeniable presence of God in the creation of a new human life, another unique soul, really put the screws to a self-serving worldview that denies God.

I was 33 years old before I became a parent for the first time, so I got a bit of a late start. My first child nearly died when she was born, having lost half of her blood supply due to surgical mistakes made in the course of what was supposed to be a routine C-section. She spent seven days in the NICU at University Hospital, during which time I found myself praying with a committed heart, probably for the very first time. My prayers in the NICU were of the “bargaining” variety, and went something like this: “Lord God, I’m not even sure that You exist, but if You do, I beg You to spare the life of my newborn daughter. Please give me a heart for her, and for You, and help me to provide her with lasting hope in this dark, dying world.”

During yesterday’s services at The Crossing, Scott Myers shared some of his testimony on video and talked about how he, too, could not bring himself to believe that he was passing on an ultimately meaningless existence to his own children, all of us just being cosmic accidents, highly-evolved mammals that are born, die and suffer much in the meantime, with no ultimate purpose. (In case you missed it, you can view that video here.) Scott’s previous life of atheism closely mirrors my own in many ways; neither of us saw the everyday grace and beauty that God so graciously provides in mind-blowing abundance day after day. Neither of us cared much about a meaningless life and death for ourselves…and yet something about passing on a legacy of hopelessness to our children stopped both of us in our tracks and caused us to reconsider the person and work of Jesus Christ. For me, there really is something about watching your infant daughter nearly bleed to death that makes all of our “coffeehouse intellectualizing” about God evaporate in a hurry.

Obviously, not everyone who has children turns from unbelief to committed faith in Jesus. Many are able to successfully suppress the jaw-dropping miracle of human birth and explain away that moment when a child takes its first breath of air as “merely” a chance biological process, as if there is nothing at all of God present in that split-second of time when a fetus transitions from drawing its oxygen supply from the umbilical cord of its mother to pulling in air through its nose and mouth. Fathers are just biological necessities, more or less; we supply the genetic raw material that gives our children life, and after that we can go back to doing whatever we have found to be more important in life.

I don’t buy it. Just like Scott Myers, it has become painfully evident to me that the greatest Father in all of creation has given us the ultimate gift – hope in Christ – and lovingly invited all of us to share this life-giving gift with our children. Scripture commands that we do so (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), but what a testament to God’s ability to interweave our redemption stories that He can also use the gift of our own children to breathe life (and hope) into their spiritually-dead fathers. Kids, you can forget about lame neckties and Home Depot gift cards; living your life for Christ is the single greatest gift you can ever offer to your earthly fathers and – in at least a few cases – you have already given your fathers more than you will ever know, at least in this life.

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