When fathers turn their hearts toward their children

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By Mark Ellis

Where did those years go?

It seems like it was only yesterday that I was teaching our sons how to ride bikes, attending their soccer games, going on outings with the Indian Guides or Boy Scouts, and sharing wonderful family times in our tent trailer during summer camping trips.

Now our boys are out of the house and it’s very quiet.

Fathers, you only have one opportunity to make a difference when your children are under your roof, and it’s very brief. There are not too many men who get to the end of their lives and say, “You know, I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”

Sometime, before it’s too late, hug your son or daughter, tell them you love them and are proud of them. Think about even writing a letter to your child that expresses your feelings toward them.

Do you know how rare it is to have a letter from dad? A few days ago, Maria Shriver’s brother, Mark Shriver, appeared on Piers Morgan’s program and gave a tribute to their father, Sargent Shriver. Mark quoted from the following letter he received from his father:

“Mark, congratulations, always remember numero uno, you are a uniquely infinitely valuable person. Your mother and I love you, so do your brothers and sisters and friends, but all our love and interest put together cannot compare with the passionate interest and love that God himself showers upon you. You are his, he wants you and he will make you the perfect man you want to be. Love, Daddy”

That is a real man, who knows the love of His Father above, and is able to transmit that love in a way that blesses his children with the Father’s love. How many young men would feel the need to join a gang if they knew that kind of love from a father?

In the Book of Matthew, chapter 18, we see how much Jesus valued children, as well as certain qualities to their faith:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

“He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”

The parallel story in Mark 9 tells us the disciples had just been arguing about who was the greatest among them. Was it Peter? Was it James or John? They had just been on the mountaintop with Jesus and saw him transfigured. Surely, that must give them some claim to a very exalted position in his kingdom, wouldn’t it?

But Jesus confounds their thinking once again when he calls a small child into their midst and says unless you change and become like little children, you won’t even enter His kingdom.

Now that’s radical. That’s almost as radical as what Jesus told Nicodemus, when he said you must be born again to enter his kingdom. Now he says you must change and be like a little child.

The word he uses for change here means to turn around, do a 180. Instead of moving away from God, you turn around and move toward God.

How do we become more childlike – what is the quality Jesus is looking for? It doesn’t mean we’re supposed to revert to childish ways, become more juvenile or immature. It doesn’t mean we need a child-like IQ to believe in Jesus. After all, God said to love him with all our heart, soul, MIND, and strength.

Jesus tells us in the passage that it’s a quality of humility that is essential to enter his kingdom. Human pride is usually an obstacle to faith. Human pride says ‘I can handle life myself. I don’t need God. I want to be the captain of my own ship, the master of my own fate.’

Humility is essential to enter His kingdom; it’s also essential for greatness in His kingdom. One issue for Americans is that we are trained to be upwardly mobile. We spend our lives working our way up the ladder of success. We build resumes. People do what it takes to climb their way to the top.

But Jesus says to be called great in his kingdom doesn’t involve upward mobility. It involves downward humility. The parallel passage to this story in Mark 9 says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

God’s moral law of gravity says that whatever goes up, must first go down. Some will recognize this call to humble service.

Henri Nouwen, the great pastor, author, and professor, had very prestigious teaching positions at Notre Dame, Harvard, and Yale, but he gave that up to live among the poor inPeruin the early 1980s, then among the mentally disabled during the remaining years of his life.

Dr. Robertson McQuilkin gave up his position as president of a university to become his wife’s full-time caregiver, after she got Alzheimer’s. How many men would give up their careers to become caregivers?

I salute the fathers who make the sacrifices in their careers to turn their hearts toward home, to spend that quality time with their wife and kids.

“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6)

Mark 9 tells us Jesus was holding this little child in his arms when he said this.

People involved in children’s ministry sometimes talk about something called the 4-14 window, which is the window of opportunity between the ages of four to fourteen when more than 85% of Christians make their decision to follow Christ.

There are more than 2 billion children around the world who fall into this category – who will reach them with the Good News about Jesus?

Some of you may have read the book, “Heaven is for real,” about the little boy,Colton, who had a near-death experience and saw heaven. I had the privilege to interview his father, Todd, and one of the most important messagesColtoncame back with is how much Jesus loves children.

Coltonwould wake up in the morning and tell his father, “Hey Dad, Jesus told me to tell you He really loves the children.” Over dinner at night,Coltonwould say, “Remember, Jesus really loves the children.”

Before bed, as he brushed his teeth, he would say, “Hey daddy, don’t forget, Jesus said he really really loves the children.”

Todd Burpo said these reminders from his son gave him a new appreciation for children’s ministry and the important role of his church’s Sunday School volunteers.

Now if anyone would harm a child, or cause one of them to sin, Jesus gave a dramatic and frightening warning about a millstone hung around the neck. A millstone weighed about 400 pounds and was used to grind grain. It was harnessed to a donkey with a large beam so it could be turned by the animal’s brute strength.

If that was tied to your neck and thrown in the sea, you can guess the result. Our gentle Jesus almost sounds like a mafia hit man here. He says if you harm one of these precious ones, you’re going to be sleeping with the fishes.

Actually, he says you would be better off sleeping with the fishes than what will actually happen to you.

This week, there has been a very sad public spectacle taking place, the trial of a former coach at Penn State University accused of molesting at least 10 boys. If the charges are true, all those boys have been deeply scarred for life. They will never forget the way their moral innocence was robbed by someone they placed their trust in.

Reading this passage in Scripture, I shudder to think how God will deal with people who perpetrate such crimes against children.

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)

This is a primary verse for those who believe in guardian angels. The Bible never uses the term ‘guardian’ angel. But angels are real; the Book of Hebrews refers to them as ministering spirits, sent to render service to those who will inherit salvation.

Some believe angels perform ministry for God’s children as a whole, while others believe this verse teaches that each child and each Christian has a specific angel serving as his or her guardian.

My niece’s daughter, little Emma, started pointing to angels in her bedroom shortly after she began to talk. My niece says “Every morning when I would get her up she would point up at the ceiling and say, ‘Look momma, there’s angels up there.”

A few months ago, my niece went into Emma’s room when she first got up and this time, she said ‘The angels and the man came.”

My niece asked, “Oh, what did they say?”

“The man protects us and loves us,” Emma said. “The man’s coming, momma. The man says he’s coming back soon.”

Yes, Jesus may be returning soon. Until that wonderful day, I pray that fathers will increasingly turn their hearts toward home, bless their children with the Father’s love, and discover the hidden wonders of a childlike faith.