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Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Father's Faith

Charles Martin Coppenbarger
(1953-1996)
This year marks the 15th anniversary of my father's sudden illness and death.  He would also have been 58 this month. On this Father's Day of 2011, I want to reflect a bit on how we, as fathers, should lead our families in the faith, especially being the father of three children myself, even as my father did. I have many memories of my father ensuring that we were in church or that there were church activities available to us.
At the age of 19, I had no idea that would be the last year of my life with my father. Things seem to be going okay, I suppose. I was sort of taking a break from college, sort of involuntarily due to money, but working as pizza delivery driver full time, attempting to get into management. I spent most of my money on gas, video games, cds, comic books, and collectible card games. I still spent time with my family, of course, but at the time we attended different churches. Not because of theology, mind you, but because of youth groups. That's beside the point. A few years earlier, my parents felt that this other church youth group would be better for my middle sister than the one we were at previously, so they switched churches while I was away on a missions trip. I continued at my church because I could drive and that's where my friends were.

I tell this story because my father ensured the best well-being for my family spiritually in this decision. I was not always the best child, even being the oldest, but who of us was ever the best child. We typically fall in one of two camps on this: thinking we were the best child, or thinking one of our siblings was the favored one. Too bad if you were an only child. You were the best and the worst child.

One thing I do know, is that we were always in church. It could have been a KJV-only fundamentalist hellfire and brimstone church (I think that was only once, but it was the one I was saved in at age 7, go figure), or the type we most often attended, a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) church. Either way, my father made sure we had a church home. As fathers, this is our primarily responsibility. The shepherding of our family. In the same way that Jesus is the chief shepherd, so we, as fathers are called to reflect Jesus as shepherds to our family. Our wives and children are our flock. Whether we lead them in devotions, encourage them in their Bible memory verses, or take them to church, we are responsible for setting the path of salvation before them. We cannot save them, but we sure can preach the Gospel to them.

Another way to shepherd them is to spend time with them. When I was a teenager, we would get up on Saturday mornings and go fishing at a pond at a church friend's house. We wouldn't catch much, if anything, but we had a lot of fun doing it. My first car was a 1981 Buick Skylark. It ran about 1/4 of the 2 years we had it, but it sure was a lot of fun taking the engine apart or rebuilding the carburetor with my dad. He taught me how to use power tools such as a table saw or a band saw. I still have his table saw in my shed, which I have used from time to time.

We learn what it means to be a man from our fathers. We learn how to treat women from our fathers. We learn some of that from our mothers as well, but we see how our fathers treat their wives, our mothers. This is important as you shepherd your children. God has called fathers to a high calling as examples to both our wives and children. Don't let this responsibility burden you, but let it free you as you see your children make right choices (with lots of prayer) in the future. They'll make wrong choices too, but that's our sinful nature still within us until Christ comes back.

Maybe your father has passed on, as mine has, or you still see him and you can identify with some of what I have written. Maybe you can't identify with it because your father may have been non-existent or abusive or in the home, but absent. Know this, however, that there is a Father in Heaven who will never let you down. He is not abusive. He is not absent. He is ever-present with you, shepherding you. I hope my personal example of my own father encourages you. At times, I look in the mirror, and I see him staring back at me. I see him in the things I do, whether it's fixing a toy, or working on a vehicle. My earthly father is still with me, in ways, not in the New Age way of his spirit being here, but in the work that I do. In the way I shepherd my own family, my father is with me. My father is in Heaven because he was a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, but he left his mark on me and my sisters.

God the Father also leaves his mark on His children and it's a more permanent one. It's called the Holy Spirit. It's what changes us for the better if we did not have a father or a good example of a father growing up. We can thank God for changing us to be like Him. Let us thank God for Godly fathers here on earth that lead by example. That's not to say there aren't good non-Christian fathers, but only through Christ can earthly fathers truly lead. If you can, call up your father and tell him you love him and thank him for all that he has done for you.