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As we celebrate Father’s Day, I remember my Dad who passed away a little over 8 years ago. He didn’t get to see me become a father myself, as my daughter came home about 3 years after he was gone. However, the cool thing about being a good Dad is that your kids will (hopefully) take what you taught them, and teach their kids. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see your child doing something that your Dad taught you, and even more amazing when they never met in person. So in memory of my Dad, here are a few of the things he taught me.
Character is Important
My Dad was a minister for nearly 50 years. He taught in small churches, and many times was the only person on staff. He was the primary example people had of what living a life for God was like, and he took that role very seriously.
My Dad had taken over a church a few years earlier from the founding pastor who was retiring. After this man retired, he had a distinct idea of how he was going to still run the church, so to speak. My Dad had a very different idea about that, and because of this disagreement, the older pastor began spreading rumors about my father, saying that he was “adding to Scripture” or “being a false teacher” and trying to lead people away from the Bible. My Dad never once complained about it, he just firmly went about leading the church in the direction he felt was where God wanted him to go.
When I was in late elementary school, one of the elderly members of our church had passed away and we were heading to the visitation. I asked my father if this other pastor was going to be there. He said that he definitely would be. I then told my Dad that if the opportunity came up that I was not going to shake this man’s hand. I was angry that anyone would deliberately hurt my Dad and lie about him. My Dad simply told me that I would absolutely shake his hand because it was the right thing to do. He said that this pastor had led this church for over 3 decades, and that he meant a lot to the people of our church, so regardless of what he had done to us, we were to show him respect.
The Value of Hard Work
My Dad was always serving others. His job was basically like being on call 24/7: if a member of our church needed him, no matter what time of day, he would go, and he didn’t complain. I always saw him working hard at whatever he did.
My Mom shared a story with me not too long ago. A couple years after they had been married, my parents moved to the Daytona Beach, Florida area to start a church. They moved to town with $60 in their pocket. In looking for an apartment to rent, they found one that was perfect, but they needed to pay a month’s rent in advance, and the rent was $60. They explained to the woman why they had come to the area, so she agreed to take only $30 so that my parents would still have money to eat.
While the church was getting started, my Dad took on second jobs because the church was just getting started and there was not enough money for him to have a salary. He worked as a ditch digger, a milkman, and a few other blue collar jobs in order to provide for he and my Mom. He simply said that he wasn’t going anywhere because he knew that God had called him there to preach, so he was going to do anything he needed to do to make it work, and put a roof over their heads.
The Importance of Family
Growing up we effectively shared my Dad and his time with a larger group of people (our church). While there were things that he missed, I always knew that outside of God, we were the most important thing in his life.
He was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic in his late 20′s. As he got older, he experienced complications from the disease including circulation issues in his legs. This sometimes led to him having to be admitted to the hospital so that they could very aggressively treat sores that would appear on his feet.
I dare say that he seemed like he enjoyed these times at the hospital because he got to talk to EVERYONE! By the end of his stay, he would know the full back story of every nurse, doctor, and whoever else came into his room. He would enthusiastically introduce his family to all his new friends anytime we were in for a visit. One day someone asked him what his hobbies were, he simply said “my family”.
Don’t be Afraid to Show Affection
My Dad’s father was a good, hard-working man’s man who worked for and retired from Dodge in the Detroit area. He wasn’t necessarily one to express his feelings to others or to show his affection. This changed a bit with us grandkids, and honestly I think it was because we wouldn’t take no for an answer (at least not me).
My Dad was always hugging and kissing us, to the point that you almost got tired of it. I never had to question if my Dad loved me or was proud of me because he told me, all the time, every time I saw him. He told me one day that his Dad was not like that, and he decided early on that he just wasn’t going to be that way.
The last time I saw my Dad was about two weeks before he suddenly passed away. I had missed coming over for dinner as I had planned a few days earlier because I got stuck at work. I had told my Mom that I was upset I couldn’t make it because I didn’t want them to think that work was more important than they were. So I took a long lunch one day and come over to see them. My Dad met me at the front door, hugged and kissed me and began crying, saying “I would never think that you were putting work ahead of us” and I said that I knew that, but I just felt bad for having to break plans with them.
I didn’t see him in person after that day, but I didn’t have to worry about having left something unsaid to him because we always told each other how much we loved and appreciated the other person. So unlike some people who have a hard time talking to their father, I was able to say goodbye to him with no regrets.
All People Matter
There are almost too many examples to choose just one to give details about, but when things like divorce, inter-racial marriage, etc. were still very much taboo in the church, he accepted them. Many of these people had been shunned or literally asked to leave other churches, and my Dad would make a point to make them feel welcome. He wanted to tell them about this man Jesus that he had fallen in love with, and who cared about them deeply.
One woman who been coming to our church since even before we got there had actually been told not to come back before. She and her son would come, but her husband wasn’t a church goer. The pastor before my Dad had told her not to come unless her husband came too. My Dad assured her that regardless of who in their house came with her, that he wanted to see her there. My Dad helped to restore her dignity, and that of others who had been marginalized by bad representatives of the church.
Baseball is an Amazing Sport
My Dad was a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, and he instilled the love of the game into me and my two older brothers. Not only is the sport rich in history, it’s an amazing display of skill and strategy. I think what makes it a great pastime for spectators is the fact that when you watch a game, there is time in between pitches and innings to talk about what you would do if you were a coach, or an amazing play that you saw at another game, or to just socialize with whoever you are watching the game.
What makes it a great game for Dads and their kids is that the players of the past are so larger than life that they are almost mythological characters with god-like status who battled all the odds and won. If you grew up admiring your Dad like I did, then you think of your Dad in almost that same kind of context. My Dad was my hero growing up because he had a big heart and was the most generous person in spirit that I have ever known.
Always Have Faith in God
I didn’t know it growing up, but my parents really didn’t have a lot of money, but we never seemed to go without. Money wasn’t a topic that they shared with us, even though they sometimes were struggling wondering how things were going to work out. But despite this, they never wavered in their faith that God had a plan, we just didn’t know the details at the time.
The week before I graduated college, the company my Mom was working for shut down without a warning. My Dad was retired at this point, leaving my Mom’s salary their major source of income. I was a getting a degree in finance, so I could put two and two together at this point and new that they didn’t have an immense amount of saving to carry them through a prolonged time of unemployment.
My parents just told me that they had faith in God that it would all work out. While I sat there questioning God as to why He would repeatedly allow one bad financial disaster or another happen to my parents given all they had done to serve Him for decades, my parents faith never wavered, never cracked, not even once. I thought I was helping the situation by being worried for them, not that worrying has ever helped out any situation ever. Less than two weeks later, my Mom had a new job.
I could go on and on about what my Dad and Mom have taught me over the years, but this post has to end at some point, right? Not everyone was as lucky to grow up with such a great guy for a father. My Dad wasn’t perfect, and he would have been the first one to tell you that. But his love and care for us has allowed what mistakes he did make to fade away in the background.
The good news is that even if we have lost our father here on Earth, never had one, or had one that was the farthest thing from a good dad, we have an opportunity to see what that kind of good relationship is like. In the Bible, God is referred to as a Father in numerous passages. For those who didn’t have the kind of relationship I did with my Dad, that might seem more like a slice of hell than heaven. But when you have seen how good and nurturing that father-child relationship can be, then you know how wonderful that sounds to hear the term “God our Heavenly Father”.
I pray that those of us fathers here on Earth can build bonds with our children much like the good examples of Dads around us. More importantly, I pray that we can build the kind of relationships with our children just like the one our Heavenly Father wishes to have with each of us.
I ought to be continuing my series on bestselling Christian books this morning, but found myself taken with this prayer from John Stott. It was apparently a prayer he would use to begin his day, and it’s a sweet one.
Good morning heavenly Father,
good morning Lord Jesus,
good morning Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.
A few weeks ago I set out on a series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notable false teachers and to examine the false doctrine each of them represents. Along the way we have visited such figures as Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Ellen G. White (Adventism), Norman Vincent Peale (Positive Thinking) and Benny Hinn (Faith Healing). Today we turn to a man who pastors a mega-church, whose sermons are a staple on TBN, and who has written a long list of bestselling books.
Thomas Dexter Jakes was born on June 9, 1957 in South Charleston, West Virginia and grew up in nearby Vandalia. As a teenager he was charged with supporting and caring for his invalid father and dedicated himself to that task. While still a young man he felt that the Lord was calling him to ministry so he enrolled at West Virginia State University and began to preach occasionally. Before long, though, he dropped out of school to work at Union Carbide, while continuing to preach on a part-time basis. In 1981, at the age of 24, he married Serita Ann Jamison.
Around this time Jakes, still eager to be a minister, founded Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith, a small, independent, Pentecostal congregation in Montgomery, West Virginia. The church quickly began to grow from the ten founding members meeting in a small storefront to two hundred and then three hundred attendees. Jakes soon came into contact with Bishop Sherman Watkins who had founded the Higher Ground Always Abounding Assembly, which at that time was an association of more than two hundred Pentecostal churches. Watkins ordained Jakes and suggested that he plant a church in the Charleston Area.
In 1990 Jakes moved to Charleston and began to focus on the spiritual concerns of the women in his church, many of whom were in abusive or other otherwise difficult relationships. He called his class “Woman, Thou Art Loosed” and this later became the title of his bestselling book and the name of an annual conference. By 1993 he had moved his congregation to Cross Lanes, West Virginia, where the mixed-race congregation exploded to more than 1,100 people. The next year he established T.D. Jakes Ministries to produce televised sermons and conferences. In 1996 he moved to Dallas, Texas, where he founded the Potter’s House. Today some 17,000 people call it their home church. His television broadcast “The Potter’s House” appears on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and other networks around the world, making him one of the world’s most prominent and recognizable preachers. His annual MegaFest event draws up to 100,000 people each year. He has written more than 30 books, many of which have appeared on the lists of bestselling Christian books.
A gifted speaker and excellent communicator, Jakes has been widely praised for his teaching and his leadership. In September of 2001 he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine with the title, “Is this man the next Billy Graham?” He has also appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s network and has reciprocated the invitation, inviting her to appear at his MegaFest event. He has acted in or produced several movies including the currentHeaven Is For Real. Among his acquaintances he counts both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
False Teaching: Modalism
T.D. Jakes is associated with several troublesome teachings including the prosperity gospel and positive thinking. For our purposes, though, we will look at his teaching on the Trinity. Jakes has long been associated with Oneness Pentecostalism which holds to an unorthodox position on the Trinity. This position is known as Modalism or, historically, as Sabellianism.
Modalism holds that Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not refer to distinct persons in the godhead, but to different modes of existence of a single person. It teaches that in ages past God manifested himself as the Father, during the incarnation of Christ he manifested himself as the Son, and subsequently he manifested himself as the Holy Spirit. As one of its key tenets it states that God cannot exist in more than one mode at a time. So while this teaching does hold to a form of trinitarian theology and while it does proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ, it denies that there are three distinct persons who together make up the godhead. Hence the belief statement at the Potter’s House says, “There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Formerly the statement was even clearer: “We believe in one God who is eternal in His existence, Triune in His manifestation, being both Father, Son and Holy Ghost AND that He is Sovereign and Absolute in His authority.”) The important word here is manifestations. Where historic Christianity affirms persons, modalism demands use of manifestations or modes.
Followers & Adherents
Jakes has wide influence in many circles. Some 17,000 people attend his church on a weekly basis and millions more encounter his teaching through his broadcasts, conferences, movies and books. He is one of a few Christian figures who has a voice that extends into the broader culture through association with Oprah Winfrey, American presidents, and other leaders.
What the Bible Says
These minor distinctions in trinitarian theology, a word here, a letter there, actually represent colossal differences and even eternal differences—the difference between heaven and hell. Modalism has long been labeled as a heresy meaning that if you believe it in place of the biblical understanding of the Trinity, you are not and cannot be a true Christian.
We can define the Trinity, as the church has historically understood it, through a series of seven simple statements: There is one God; The Father is God; The Son is God; The Holy Spirit is God; The Father is not the Son; The Son is not the Spirit; The Spirit is not the Father.
In all that is, in all that exists, there is only one God. No truth was more precious to the Israelites of old. In Isaiah’s prophecy God records:
There is no other god besides me
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21-22)
It could hardly be clearer. The New Testament is equally explicit. Paul writes, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). James agrees: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).
There is one God. The other six statements affirm both unity and diversity within the godhead. There is one God who exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet each of these is distinct from the others. There is unity here, but there is also diversity. There is a real sense in which God is one, and there is a real sense in which God is three.
To summarize those seven statements, we might say, “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” In all that we believe, in all that we affirm or deny, we must hold these seven statements together. If we take away one, the entire structure collapses. In fact, every time the Trinity comes under attack, or every time the Trinity is denied, it is because one of these statements has been taken away or tampered with.
What words can we use to describe this quality of one-ness and this quality of three-ness? God is one (blank) and three (blank)? Christians came to use the term essence to describe the one-ness of God, and the term person to express the three-ness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is one essence and three persons.
Though he has recently denied being a Modalist, T.D. Jakes continues to use manifestations in place of persons and continues to affirm the faith of those who remain ardent Oneness Pentecostals. This is no minor quibble in theology because it contradicts and confuses the orthodox and accepted view of the Trinity. Until he clearly affirms the orthodox definition of the Trinity and denies the Modalist definition of the Trinity, we must regard him warily as a false teacher.
I think I may be leaving one phase of fatherhood behind even while I enter into another. My youngest child is just about to turn eight, which means that we are not only past the baby and toddler stages, but even nearing the end of the little kid phase. Meanwhile my oldest child has turned fourteen and is just months away from high school. All this change has caused me to think about fatherhood and the new challenges coming my way. I have found myself thinking back to the many models of fatherhood I have seen and admired through the years. What made these fathers admirable? What set them apart? What was it that they said to their children? From these models I have drawn seven things a good father says.
I love you. Few things are more important to a child than knowing where he stands with his parents. As I think back to my childhood, I remember several friends who lived with uncertainty in their relationship with their parents, and their fathers especially. They longed to hear words of love and approval. But I saw other kids who had total confidence in that love and approval. Often the difference was little more than three simple words repeated regularly: “I love you.” Men can be so petty, so prideful, and hold back those words. Yet there is no good reason for it. The more awkward it feels, the more urgent it is. From the dads I admire I’ve learn that a father needs to say, “I love you,” and he needs to say it often.
Let me kiss it better. Even as a young child I remember observing two different kinds of fathers in my church. When children fell and scraped their knees, there were two ways I saw dads react. Some fathers would pick up their children, set them back on their feet, and tell them to get over it. “You’re fine. Walk it off!” They wanted their soft children to toughen up. There were other fathers who would pick up their children, hold them in their arms, make a show of extending comfort, and say, “Let me kiss it better.” These were fathers who wanted their hard children to soften up. Sure, there are times to tell your child to walk it off, but there are far more times to extend love and concern through those childhood bumps and bruises and through the bigger sins and mistakes that come with age. From the dads I admire I’ve learned the value of saying, “Let me kiss it better” (though, obviously, as the children get older the wording changes!).
Come with me. There is so much in life that can be better caught than taught. Often the best way to train up a child is to let that child into your life. One father I admire taught me the distinction between being face-to-face with my children and being shoulder-to-shoulder. I saw this shoulder-to-shoulder parenting in my own father who often brought me with him on his errands or, even better, to his work. This allowed me to see the value of putting in a hard day’s work, and the value of building relationships with clients, suppliers, and so many others. It allowed me to see that work was an extension of the rest of life, and not a part of life that exists all on its own. The fathers I have admired are the fathers who say to their children, “Come with me,” and who welcome them into their day-to-day lives.
Please forgive me. Every father sins against every one of his children. He probably does it every day. Sadly, sin is every bit as inevitable as death and taxes. Fathers need to be in the habit of identifying their sin to their children and asking forgiveness. But as I think back, I saw this and heard of this in so few fathers. There are only a few I knew to consistently identify their sin and seek forgiveness for it. As I consider my fourteen years of parenting, I see far too little of it as well. The practice seems so much more difficult than the theory. The good dad is the one who humbly, carefully says to his children, “Please forgive me.”
You’re forgiven. Just as every father sins against every one of his children, every child sins against his father. The father who asks forgiveness also needs to be willing to extend forgiveness. Every father punishes his child at times, but too many fathers punish in the worst way—by holding a grudge or by letting the child suffer as dad withholds forgiveness and reconciliation. Our children need to be forgiven and they need to experience the joy of reconciliation. Here I think of a father I know—a father I admire—who taught me that a good dad doesn’t just say, “It’s okay,” but always goes further to say, “You’re forgiven.”
Let’s pray. There is one father I admire whom I have only met in the pages of books he has written. Of all he has written, what has gripped me most is the ways in which he prays with his children. He reserves special time each week for each child and in that time he inquires about their souls and prays with them. That sounds like a wonderful practice. And in the rhythm of daily life with all its ups and downs he is also quick to lead them in seeking God’s strength, God’s help, God’s wisdom. Here he teaches them the best and deepest kind of dependency on the best and greatest Help in the world. I have learned from him that the good dad is quick to say, “Let’s pray.”
You can’t do it. We live at a time when parents are known for being extravagant in their praise for their children and assuring them, “You can do anything.” But the good dad assures his children that in the most important area, they can’t do it. They simply can’t. One of the great challenges every Christian father faces is in showing his child that behavior is a reflection of the heart and that the child cannot simply will himself into heart change. And this is where the gospel becomes so precious, because it begins with that inability, leads straight to the blood and righteousness of Christ, and then to the enabling of the Holy Spirit. The dads I love and admire are the dads who assure their children, “You can’t do it,” and who quickly lead them to the gospel and to the Savior who can.
I am eager to hear what you have learned from good fathers. So, following roughly the same format, tell me what you’ve heard a good father say…
Family is under attack. As Christians we are accustomed to hearing about divorce and pornography and gay marriage and so many other moral issues. Have you ever considered how many of these moral issues relate directly to family? If you look, you will see that the very notion of family—family as the Bible describes it—is under sustained and heavy attack. This means that your family is under attack.
We know that a distinctly Christian notion of family is crucial to raising children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But there is more at stake than raising the next generation of Christians. Family is crucial in at least two other ways: It teaches us fundamental truths of the Christian faith and it serves as an important kind of ministry. Allow me to explain.
God Teaches Us Through Family
God uses family to teach us. There are several areas of Christian life and doctrine that God chooses to explain to us through metaphor, and one common metaphor is family. There are parts of Christian life and doctrine we can only rightly understand if we first understand family as God creates and intends it.
God Uses Family to Teach About His Nature. The relationship between parents and children is a distant glimpse of the relationships within the godhead, and, in particular, the relationship of the first person of the Trinity to the second—God the Father to God the Son. We can only describe and understand the relationship of God the Father to God the Son if we understand the relationship of earthly fathers to earthly sons. If Satan can distort or destroy family, he can distort and destroy our ability to understand God’s triune nature.
God Uses Family to Teach Us about His Gospel. God tells us that when he justifies us through faith in Jesus Christ, he adopts us as his sons and daughters. Therefore we know that the relationship of parents to their children is not incidental or unimportant—no mere fragment of God’s plan for his people. Rather, the relationship of children being brought into their parents’ family is designed to teach us about our relationship to God and to teach us about the intimacy of our relationship to him. If Satan can distort or destroy family, he can distort and destroy our understanding of the gospel.
God Uses Family To Teach Us about His Church. Peter calls the church “the family of God” (1 Pet. 4:17) and Paul refers to it as “God’s household” (1 Tim. 3:15). As Christians, we belong to the same family because we have been united to one another through our adoption as sons and daughters of the same Father. It is because we are sons and daughters of the same Father that Christians refer to one another as “brothers” and “sisters.” If Satan can distort or destroy family, he can distort and destroy our understanding of the church.
Do you see it? To understand God’s nature, God’s gospel, and God’s church, we first need to understand family. When a father abandons his family, the metaphors grow distorted. When a family has two fathers and no mothers, the metaphors grow distorted. Even when a Christian couple determines for selfish reasons not to have children, the metaphors grow distorted. But a strong family, built upon the Scriptures, serves as a powerful image of all of these truths.
How Family Ministers
Your family is under attack because of all it represents. Your family is also under attack because of what it does. God designed your family to serve as a kind of ministry to the church and to the world.
Family Ministers to the Local Church. Because the church is fundamentally a spiritual family, we learn how to function as a church by looking to the model of healthy families. This means that building strong, biblical families is critical to the life and health of the church. When Paul explains to Timothy how to relate to other people in the church he tells him to relate to older men as fathers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters. He tells him to look at family and to behave as a family behaves. When Paul tells Timothy about church leaders he tells him he will be able to recognize elders in the church by looking for men who are good earthly father figures (see 1 Tim. 3:4-5). If a man is able to oversee and manage his own household, he may well be prepared to oversee and manage the church, since both tasks depend on many of the same skills and abilities. Therefore family ministers to the church by teaching how its members are to relate to one another (like brothers and sisters!); by teaching the church how to recognize leaders (the good fathers!); and even by teaching a bit of what God is like (the best parents, but infinitely more so!).
Family Ministers to the World. Family also ministers to the world. It was God’s desire that everyone would be prepared—to at least some degree—to hear the gospel. He designed the family to be a universal model of some of the deepest and most precious truths about who he is and what he is accomplishing in this world: He is father; he wants to adopt us as his children; Christians are brothers and sisters. Healthy, Bible-based, gospel-centered families are a crucial part of pre-evangelism, a way of introducing everyone on earth to the basic categories through which they can understand the Christian faith. If we lose or distort the notion of father, if we lose or distort the notion of parents, if we play fast and loose with brother and sister, we lose the very concepts that allow us to explain who God is and what he is doing.
Family teaches us about God’s nature, his gospel and his church, and family ministers to both the church and the world. No wonder, then, that Satan is always attacking the family and no wonder he will stop at nothing to attack your family. If he can destroy family, he can destroy these powerful metaphors and these powerful ministries. If he can distort or destroy the family, he can make the gospel opaque to those who are not yet saved.
When Satan’s purposes are clear, the Christian’s challenge is clear: We need to view building strong, vibrant, Bible-based, gospel-centered, distinctly Christian families as a critical part of protecting our faith and living it out.
(Much of this material was drawn from a course from Capitol Hill Baptist Church)