Legalistic Dad

How do you help a legalistic dad?  You know the kind.  He demands his family do as he wants, the way he wants, on the basis that he has GOD on his side.

I have had to deal with several dads over the years that have dug themselves into a hole but refuse to change because they are the DAD and the Bible tells the kids to obey them.  The children become hurt and rebellious and that only affirms to the dad that he is on the high ground and they are wrong.

Call For Help

I was asked recently by a Christian counsellor for some suggestions to help a legalistic dad face the mess he has created and the pain he and his family are living in.  The dad appeals to the Biblical command that children obey their mother and father as his trump card to justify his stern stand.

As I considered the question, my thoughts about sad situations I have seen over the years led me to a new suggestion to help a legalistic dad.

The problem is getting the dad to listen and to be prepared to review his own actions, when he has a strong sense of being “right” and others being wrong.

Test the Fruit

Jesus told us we can know the truth about people by the “fruit” of their life.  A father’s life is not measured by the legal ground he claims as his authority, but by the fruit of his actions.  “By their fruits you will know them” is a basic litmus test we can apply quite widely.

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” Matthew 7:16

“So by their fruits you will know them.” Matthew 7:20

I suggest we can apply this to test those legalistic dads who think they are right and others are wrong.

Fruit in the Family

A child starts out as a blank page.  And children are very resilient and forgiving.  They have the ability to cope with disappointments and the distractions of their parents.  And children learn much of their concept of life by watching their parents at close quarters.

So, at least in general terms, the way the kids turn out can be regarded as the “fruit” of the family.  If a family produces selfish, proud, loud, disobedient kids, you know that the home has some serious problems.  If a home produces quiet, obedient, loving, thoughtful children, the quality of the home is attested to by those kids.

So let’s use that fruit factor as a searchlight on the legalistic dad.

Stubborn Kid from a Stubborn Dad

When a legalistic dad digs in his toes and will not budge from his conflict with a child, and the child digs in his or her toes and will not budge either, we can see that the child is the “fruit” of the father.  The stubborn father has produced that stubborn child.

So, if the dad thinks he has the ‘moral high ground’, standing in the place of being right while the kids are wrong, he had better re-think things.  The “fruit” of what he has produced is a public testimony to his failure.  Instead of standing on moral high ground, he is standing in the place he accuses his kids of standing on.

Humility in the Home

If the dad is looking for a spirit of humility in his children, then we need to see that same fruit in him.  If he doggedly defends his opinions and the rightness of who and what he is he can only expect his children to be as stubborn in their stand for their own rightness too.

First let’s see the dad humble himself before God and admit that he needs God’s wisdom.  Let’s hear the dad admit that he has failed in his role as dad.  When we see that kind of humility we know there is hope for the family.
If dad defies the evidence then he has invalidated his stand before God.  God gives grace to the humble, not to the defiant and arrogantly proud.

Heart Issues

Another important truth for a legalistic dad is that the issue is not rebellious kids, but the condition of the dad’s heart.  Yes, rebellion in the family is wrong and the rebellious children need to have that resolved.  But the dad is the head of the home and it is vital to get him sorted out as a key to healing the whole family.  And getting dad sorted out means dealing with dad’s heart.

The Bible points out that the real “issues” of our life are not the things that come against us but the things that come “out of us”.

“Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

When we seek to heal a home, the real “issues” are not the rebellion of a son or daughter, but those things that come out of the heart of the dad and mum.  In the case of a legalistic dad in conflict with his children, it is what is coming out of the heart of that dad.

Out of the Heart

Listen to what Jesus said about the significance of what comes out of us.

“And he said, That which comes out of the man defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Mark 7:20-23

The issue that is defiling the father and likely bringing real problems into the home is whatever is coming OUT of the father’s heart.

And we know what is coming out of the heart by what people say.

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil: for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

Legalistic Speak

A legalistic dad will speak judgment of his children, rejection, condemnation, fault finding, pride in his own standards, negativity, contention, and so on.  And those words of his mouth reveal that he is not standing on moral high ground, but is polluted.

A heart that produces evil speaking reveals an “evil heart”.  The legalistic dad has deep troubles in his heart that lead him to produce toxic speech and bad fruit.

The more a legalistic dad is challenged about his stand the more virulent he may become in attacking others, asserting that he is right, feeling rejected and intimidated and so on.

All of this reveals that the dad is not walking and living in God’s grace.

Fruit and Heart

The dual matters of the “fruit” of the dad’s fathering in the home and the “issues” in the dad’s heart expressed in his legalistic stance and speech, show that the dad needs help.  The home is what it is because the dad has internal issues that need to be resolved.  He will never be able to lead his family into joy and wholeness while he is beset with personal problems that have produced bad fruit in the home and which reveal bad issues pouring out of his heart.

Legalism as a Cover

If a dad has produced bad fruit in his home and his heart pumps out evil things he has issues.  And legalism may just be a way to cope with life and excuse his situation.  Legalism may be a cover.  By being legalistic he can point at others, rather than get free on the inside himself.

Just about anything could cause a person to become legalistic, but since legalism prompts a person to reject others it is reasonable to assume that rejection has a part to play in the legalistic dad’s heart.

Certainly there is a lack of the grace of God.  And the writer of Hebrews warns that failing to receive and give out God’s grace leads us to having a root of bitterness which causes us to defile others.

“Be diligently attentive lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” Hebrews 12:15

Legalism and the attendant accusation and rejection certainly defile and offend people so an important need in the life of a legalistic dad is to experience the grace of God and to give God’s grace to others.

Give Grace to Dad

If you suffer under a legalistic dad you will find it easy to become hurt, offended, resentful, judgmental, angry and so on.  And by so doing you will be tempted to let a root of bitterness spring up in your life.  If that happens then the problem has been passed down to a new generation, instead of being dealt with and rooted out of the family.

So if you have a legalistic dad press in to God for sufficient grace so you can give grace to your dad, even though he does not deserve it.  If you can give grace to those who have no grace, you will not come under the power of their failures and weakness but have triumphed into liberty for yourself and your children.

If your dad is legalistic and refuses to see that there is anything wrong in his life, you are in a very vulnerable place.  Determine with God’s help to give abundant grace to that graceless dad.

The Children’s Bread

Citizens of any nation have a special status, based on their inherited right, or chosen right for those who take on citizenship. Jesus Christ celebrated that special status, so it is enshrined in political reality. Sadly we are seeing an erosion of this special status, so it is timely to investigate our God-endorsed rights.

Children

Jesus Christ spoke of the natural national citizens as “children”.

On one occasion Peter made a mistake in his encounter with the administrators of his day. Peter was approached and asked if his master paid tribute money. Peter unwisely said that he did. Jesus then challenged Peter about Peter’s thinking on this matter.

“When they came to Capernaum those that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Does not your master pay tribute? He said, Yes. And when he came into the house Jesus detained him, saying, What do you think, Simon? Who do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute from? Is it from their own children, or from strangers? Peter said to him, From strangers. Jesus said to him, Then the children are free. However, so we don’t offend them, go to the sea and cast an hook, and take up the first fish that comes up; and when you open his mouth, you will find a piece of money: take that, and give to them for me and you.” Matthew 17:24-27

Why Children

Every citizen is a ‘child’ of the cultural family to which he or she belongs. That is significant and I will probably discuss that point in more depth at some other time.

Suffice it to say right now that what starts as a ‘family’ really should stay as a family. However, what tends to happen is that our leaders stop being ‘fathers’ to us and become greedy brothers and sisters who sell out the ‘family’ for personal status and reward.

Good government does not penalise its own family, but rewards it. Good government creates a wonderful environment for its own children. Good government then taxes the foreigners (“strangers” in the words of Jesus) for using the resources that really belong to the children.

Oh that it were so in our nations today!

In many western nations today the foreign entities can operate within the country with great tax advantages and privileges, while the children are heavily taxed to pay for the borrowings of their leaders (their ‘fathers’?) who have placed them in an unhappy place of national penalty.

Hmmmm…..

The Children’s Bread is for the Children

Jesus spoke of ‘children’ in a political sense on another occasion. He spoke to a foreigner who was seeking His power for a family need. In that conversation with the Syrophenician woman Jesus affirmed His personal calling to the nation of Israel. His power, miracles and grace were intended for the nation of Israel.

Israel was by that time a nation that had existed for more than a millennium. It is easy to forget, after such a long time, that the nation is really a ‘family’. The original children of Israel were the literal children of a man named Israel. As the families grew over successive generations the ‘children’ grew in number to be a national entity in their own right. But they were still ‘children’ of Israel.

In political terms this foreigner was not a member of the family of Israel. Rather than being a child in the family she was something else, like a family pet. Jesus pointed this out by saying that it was not right for Him to take what belonged to the children and to give it to the dog.

While Jesus’ comments sound offensive to our ears it is important to note two things. The woman was not upset. She recognised that His statement was true. She was outside the Kingdom and had no right to the things she requested. She was not a child of Abraham or a descendent of Jacob (Israel). Jesus’ words were not an insult, but a statement of truth acknowledged by the woman herself.

Further to that, Jesus was happy to hear her appeal and expression of faith and to grant her what she asked.

She said (in essence), “It is true that I am a dog, but even the dogs get to eat the crumbs which are dropped by the children. Since not all of your blessings will be enjoyed by the children you can spare one of the crumbs for me.”

“a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she begged him that he would cast the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not right to take the children’s bread, and cast it to the dogs. And she answered and said to him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said to her, For this saying go your way; the devil is gone out of your daughter. And when she came to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.” Matthew 7:25-30

Your Bread

We have seen that Jesus used the notion of ‘children’ to speak of both political realities (paying tribute) and spiritual realities (claiming the blessings belonging to God’s people).

You too are a child and have your own bread. So, what is your bread? What is it to which you have political and spiritual right?

As a citizen of your nation and culture you are entitled to the freedoms and protections afforded to you. You should not be abused by the fathers of your culture and nation. They should be providing you the special blessings which you are entitled to as a member of the family.

As a child of God you are entitled to an amazing range of spiritual and practical blessings reserved for the ‘children’. In fact, you have the right to walk and live in a state that is described as ‘glorious liberty’ (wonderful freedom), as God’s child.

“Creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Romans 8:21

I encourage you to enjoy the bread that is yours, both politically and spiritually. You are fully entitled to those blessings and it is your responsibility to protect and preserve them so that your own children can enjoy them as well.

The Supreme God

The God identified in the Bible as Almighty God stands as the supreme being of all existence. To illustrate the profound significance of his being allow me to show His supremacy in the core areas of human existence.

Human Existence

Human existence and human life experience are governed by a range of structures, systems and realities. For the purpose of this article let me identify a set of those core areas of human existence.

Individuality is a core issue in human experience. We are all individuals, unique from every other person and creature.

Family is also a core issue, since we are all brought into the world as a result of the actions of others. Those parents and the family from which they come are a reality we cannot ignore.

Society is also a basic issue of human existence. We all live in some form of society with at least some form of social inter-action with others. The society may be a village or a city, and it may be a small group of associates we meet face to face or a global set of friends linked by a virtual social network.

Religion is yet another core issue of human existence. Even those who ignore religion must recognise that much of society and human history is deeply influenced by religious thought and process.

Politics is also included in this list, as societies manage their processes through leaders, elected officials or others who take charge over them, for better or for worse.

Law is another basic issue, whether in the form of human conscience or highly developed legal processes. Law stands apart from politics because political entities are not exempt from, nor lords over, legal processes.

Commerce should also be included in a list of structures and systems which impact our human existence.

Education and Communication are also components of our life experience, whether they are in definable systems or not, so let’s throw them into the mix for good measure.

God’s Supremacy

Let me now review this list of systems and processes and point out where God stands in relation to each of them. You will see that God is ‘supreme’ in every sphere.

Individuality: Our personal individuality cannot stand independent of God. God is supreme over our personal independence and individual uniqueness. God, as our creator, is the master of our whole existence, being the very author of our individuality and existence. So God rules supreme over every individual, no matter how defiant he or she may be in asserting a right to unique existence. They are the pot which the potter has made (Jeremiah 18:1-11) and their individuality has no existence outside of God, who rules supreme.

Family: We are each the product of a ‘father’ and ‘mother’, no matter how casual the relationship may have been which caused us to be conceived. We also come under the influence of those who are not our biological parents but who function in the capacity of father and mother in our lives, by nurture, mentoring or the like. Yet God is the supreme parent. He is our Father in heaven, as Jesus revealed (Matthew 6:9). He is our ultimate ancestor, as the lineage of Christ reveals in Luke 3:38. Christ’s family line is traced back to Adam, as is true for all of us, and we are told that Adam is the “son of God”. So, in terms of ‘family’ God is supreme. He is the most wonderful father ever imaginable, but He is also our ultimate ancestor. We are all His children by virtue of our natural birth as descendents of Adam.

Society: God is the ultimate source of social reality. While it is people who collectively create social entities it is God who has the most profound power over social interaction. When two or more people (society) gather in His name He joins their group (Matthew 18:20). But God is able to do more than just participate. It is He who is able to change the social experience for that group of people or their relationship with other groups of people. Ephesians 2:14 speaks of the ministry of Jesus Christ as the one who makes disparate groups compatible and who removes the social barriers which separate them. God is supreme over social experience.

Religion: God is clearly supreme in this dimension because He is the God above all gods (Exodus 15:11). Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). All the religion of earth pales into insignificance against the heavenly temple and religious practice which is described for us in Hebrews 9:11 and 12,24. God is supreme over all religious reality, because He operates out of the heavenly temple with spiritual processes which have eternal impact, not temporary significance.

Politics: Here again God is the clearly supreme being. Christ is described as the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16). And the kingdoms of this world are taken under the supremacy of God (Revelation 11:15). Politics is clearly an area where God rules supreme – even though most politicians probably react to that notion. They may not mind whatever claims God makes theoretically, but many would not like God to exercise His lordship over them in practice.

Law: Once again this is not an area where there is any doubt. God is supreme over all legal process, because He is the judge of us all. The flood of Noah’s day and the destruction of the great cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are historical testimony of God’s legal supremacy. His Great White Throne judgement (Revelation 20:11,12) will call everyone to legal account, including all the kings, high court judges, magistrates and potentates who have exercised any level of legal authority over another.

Commerce: Commercial practice is regulated by God and overturned by Him. God demands just weights and balances, so commerce is honest and equitable. God limits the capacities for the charging of interest on borrowed monies. And God calls people to find provision in Him, completely independently of commercial process – “come buy without money” Isaiah 55:1. God is also supreme over those processes by which people seek to make commercial gain. God controls the crops, the completion of the building project and whether the money goes through holes in your bag. Commerce is not independent of God, but subject to God’s blessing or frustration. God is supreme over commerce.

Education & Communication: The revelation of God, through the Bible, is the most supreme education and communication in all of human history. No announcement or instruction has ever matched God’s Word in personal, social and national impact, throughout the entirety of human history. All of the news channels, universities, schools of philosophy and so on are lame when compared with the power of God’s word in the mouth of a child or God’s communications in the heart of a frail old man. God is supreme over all these processes and he will hold us accountable for every word which we speak, so teachers, media and entertainers are subject to God’s supremacy in their roles.

God is Supreme

This summary document should alert you to the truth that God is supreme. All those who beat their chests and seek to impress you with their pre-eminence should be recognised as humble and insignificant when compared to God’s presence in your life and circumstances.

I call you out of the tyranny and beguilement of those who wish you to come under their influence. I call you back to the simplicity and power of working with the one who is supreme and not getting entangled with those who wish to displace Him in your world.

Of Fathers and Sons

We live in a Fatherless World, as I explained in a recent post. So, how do fathers and sons work together to create this fatherless situation? That’s the question I want to explain in this update posting.

Fatherless-ness Defined

Fatherless-ness is the condition of being without the true fathering which God intended. Fathering is a divine calling and privilege. Yet in today’s world men think they can make of it what they want. So they become the kind of fathers that they choose to become, without regard for their divine calling. Most people today have lost sight of the foundations for their lives, so they follow the crowd. If other fathers do things a certain way then that social norm becomes the reference point for most fathers. Then, in the absence of truth to guide fathers to their real calling, they function as something less than a father. That creates a situation of fatherless-ness.

When a child is raised without the high level of spiritual responsibility and guidance that a real father is meant to bring to the child, then the child is fatherless, even if that child has a very present, very pleasant dad in their life.

Dad doesn’t create fathering. God created fathering and calls men to fulfil that mandate. Sadly, most men are either ignorant or irresponsible. They go about providing what they choose to provide in their role as dads. So their children are fatherless.

How Dads Create Fatherless-ness

When a dad is absent the child clearly is fatherless. With immorality rampant many children are born without fathers and not able to determine who their real father is. I spoke recently with a woman who was told by her mum that her dad would have been one of two men who the mum was not married to. Without DNA testing the daughter cannot be certain which of the men is her real dad. But she is at least lucky enough to narrow it down to two.

So the absentee father is one cause of fatherless-ness, but it is not the greatest cause of this problem from the dad’s side of the equation.

The more insidious fatherless-ness occurs when there is the appearance of a father, but the absence or true fathering, as I described earlier. When ever a man fails to be the man that God has called him to be or the father that God has called him to be, then he creates fatherless-ness.

I once worked with a family where the father had virtually no manhood. He acted much like his own children, but he had less intelligence than they did. He held down a menial job and left the running of the home to his wife and her father, who provided the mature male role in the home. The man’s children mocked him openly. He was a joke to them, and yet he thought such a situation was normal and reasonable. Such a man creates fatherless-ness, because he is not functioning as a father in that home.

When a dad lives for himself and raises his children as it suits him, he makes his children fatherless. When a dad ignores God’s authority over him and through him to his children, he makes his children fatherless. When a man abdicates from his manhood and leaves the home to his wife to run, he makes his children fatherless.

Dads create fatherless culture by their failure to be the fathers God created them to be in their child’s life.

How Children Create Fatherless-ness

Children also create fatherless-ness. They do it by rejecting their fathers. When children rebel against the instructions of their father, they make themselves ‘fatherless’. Just as refusing to drive a car, even when you have one in the garage, makes you effectively ‘car-less’, so refusing to honour your father, even though you have one in your home, makes you effectively ‘father-less’.

Children choose to become fatherless when they find that their dad frustrates their will. When the child decides to go against the father’s instructions or pull against his limitations, the child removes their self from being ‘fathered’. So the child becomes fatherless.

When children spend much of their life under the influence of their peers (as is the almost universal experience of western children) it is to be expected that the children will value the peer culture above their parent’s values. The child will be sorely tempted to side with the peers rather than the parents when these cultures conflict. When the child chooses to side with the peers that child replaces the father with the peer culture. The child is then fatherless.

Since the child will likely be determining his or her values from social norms, rather than from Biblical truth or some other external and unchanging reference point, the child will be encouraged to think that their fight for independence from parental control is normal and reasonable. They will have no idea that they have permanently damaged themselves and contributed to the fatherless world in which they live.

God the Father

Among the various responses that can be suggested in this fatherless world, the most powerful one is to firmly set God as Father in our lives. God is a father, as Jesus pointed out when He taught us to pray, “Our Father in Heaven…” That truth was already given in the Old Testament Scriptures.

“But now, O LORD, You are our father; we are the clay, and you our potter; and we all are the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

“For whom the LORD loves he corrects; even as a father the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:12

“Like as a father pities his children, so the LORD pities them that fear him.” Psalm 103:13

God is not only a father, He is the most perfect and complete, fully functioning father that could ever be imagined. Having God as our father brings into our lives all that our natural fathers were incapable of binging to us. So it is more than a nice idea to have God as our Father. It is an extremely powerful reality that will impact who we are more than just about anything else we could do.

I encourage you to overturn fatherless-ness in your life, but entering into intimate relationship with God as your Heavenly Father.

Broken Home is a House Divided

When a parent leaves the marriage the home is broken. At the same time the house is divided. I never realised that until a discussion I had recently with a woman who knew this all too well from personal experience.

The Single Mum

A single mother who had raised her children without the husband’s input for many years recently told me about a conversation she had with one of her children. She had faithfully brought her children up to a set of values which she believed were right. She taught her children to love their daddy but not to follow his inappropriate behaviours. In her mind she had brought them up the “right way”.

Because of her diligent instruction to her children and their choices to follow her wisdom she felt confident that she had protected her children from the wrong influence of her husband’s values. A comment from one of her children showed her otherwise.

A House Divided

As this single mum raised her children in a happy family unit for many years she came to see that the family was united. She also saw that she had given her children clear guidance, leading them to her set of values as the right way for their lives.

In discussion with one of her children she remarked about what she had sought to achieve and she was surprised by the child’s response.

Her child pointed out to her that all their lives the children felt that there were two choices before them, not one. While the mother felt she had created a house in which there was only one value being upheld, the children grew up with a different reality. For them the house was divided.

Two Paths To Choose

Each of the children well knew the values taught them by their mum. They enjoyed their upbringing and the home she had made safe and productive for them. But they were also painfully aware of their dad’s choices and values.

Even though those values were not a part of their family home with their mum, those values were none-the-less part of their life.

Mum had clearly made her choice. She stuck by her values and her commitments and invested all her energies into making up for the father’s abandonment of the children and the marriage. She had successfully excluded the dad’s values from the day to day life within the home. But those values still resonated in the children’s hearts.

Each child knew that they had two heritages to draw from. They had their mother’s values inculcated within them. But they also had direct lineage to a dad who lived by other values. Each child, therefore, lived with the reality that they had two paths to choose between.

Parents Can’t Make the Choice

Sadly, each individual must make their own choices. Parents can’t make the choices for their children. Parents can guide, instruct and inspire their children, but each child must take personal responsibility for what they do in response to the guidance and input given.

This godly mum had done all in her power to give her children the best possible preparation for right choices. But she could not exclude the influence of wrong choices from those children, since they had a direct link to other values.

Unseen Division

The mum realised that, while she was not living with a divided home or a divided heart, her children had to struggle with an unseen division. They were the product of both the mum and the dad and had direct lineage to both the paths being modelled for them. The mum did not live with division, but her children did.

While the mum took it for granted that the children would make the right choices, by virtue of their upbringing, she did not account for the personal reality of division which each child struggled with. While the domestic home was united as mother and children, the reality of a house divided could not be removed.

The Two Parent Home

The two parent home has an incredible advantage over the single mum or single dad home. Where one of the parents has chosen to abandon the home, for whatever reason, the home is divided. But where both husband and wife live together and cooperate together there is a quality of unity that is invaluable.

Children growing in a two parent home still have to make their own choices. But they do not grow up with the ever present reality of division and alternative paths to choose from. Godly parents in a strong, healthy family are able to build levels of security and maturity into their children, without the presence of a divided heart from a divided home.

All Is Not Lost

Our natural upbringing does not make us. We make choices and set the course for our life, despite the other influences that impact us. So, all is not lost in a broken home or divided home context.

God gives us a new heart when we give ourselves to Him. Even our divided heart can be transformed and healed by our relationship with the Living God.

However it is wise to be aware of what you are dealing with and to give your children the best help you can to succeed in life. That, of course, is more than a stable home with a strong marriage. The best you can give them is an intimate, faith-filled relationship with God as their Father, through faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord.