What Children Need
There are several things that children need to survive, but what do they need to really thrive? It can be argued that affection, instruction, time, and discipline top the list. Parents, are you providing your children what they really need to succeed?

If you were to give me a list of a dozen currently endangered species, it is doubtful I could tell you much if anything about any of them. However, I can think of something today that is quickly becoming just as endangered and is much more significant to the human race--that is, homes with fathers and mothers present.

Let me begin by sharing some tragic numbers. Over one-third of American children live apart from their biological father. About two-thirds of juveniles and young adults in long-term correctional facilities did not live with both parents while growing up. 75% of teen suicides and 80% of teen psychiatric admissions cite "fatherlessness" as a contributing factor. More than 30% of births today are to unmarried women, and most of these children will always live in mother-only homes. About half of all children in the United States will experience parental divorce.

The home as God would have it, is under attack on many fronts today--premarital sex with unplanned pregnancies, couples living together, widespread adultery, rampant divorce, the toleration and encouragement of homosexuality, etc. There are many things in our society working against a traditional home.

As Christians we ought to endeavor to make our families what God wants them to be. We ought to work for stability and strength in our homes. In this lesson, I want us to concentrate on four things parents, specifically fathers, should give their children. The ideal is that children will grow up in a traditional home with two faithful Christian parents, but the ideal is rarely reality. If you cannot give your children a traditional home, at the very least, ensure that you are giving them these four things we will discuss. These four things are gifts that money cannot buy, and I think all will agree that these are the most important things parents can give their son or daughter.

Children naturally love their fathers, and fathers should naturally love their children. I have some quotes that I'd like to share from some children of various ages:

These quotes came from an essay contest by the National Center for Fathering. They call attention to the need for emotional involvement of fathers with their children. In homes that believe the man is the head of the house (as the Scriptures teach, Eph. 5:23; 6:1), emotional involvement has not always reached priority level. The demands of bread winning and discipline have sometimes taken precedence.

This was a problem even in ancient times. The last verse of the Old Testament prophesies of one who "will restore the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers..." (Mal. 4:6). Luke 1:17 indicates that the man who would accomplish such was John the baptizer, the forerunner of Jesus Christ. God calls fathers to deeply love their children.

Recently I read about a man who was asked what he did for a living. He stated: "I'm a juvenile rehabilitation counselor." After a slight pause, the inquirer replied: "Yep, I'm a parent too."

Many children are ruined because their parents neglect to give them an early religious education in addition to affectionate restraint. Parents generally realize that they cannot do God's work, but do we all understand that God will not do the parents' work? God expects us to teach our children--and I'm not just talking about things like potty training.

Well, where do I start, Stephen? What's the first thing I should be doing to teach my children about God and the Bible? The first thing is to make sure that you are living a devoted, faithful life as a Christian. Kids are not dumb; they quickly catch on to hypocrisy. Additionally, children are always learning by example. You might say, kids make great parrots--especially when you don't want them to repeat what you say. I read about a father who learned that lesson the hard way when he invited his boss over for dinner. He was hoping to score a few extra points with his superior but ended up losing it all when his young son asked the boss, "Where are your cards? Dad says you're not playing with a full deck."

Fathers can make a difference! The Bible gives them a lot of credit by assuming they can bring their children "up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). Christian parents must realize that this spiritual training is not disconnected from the emotional side of rearing children. Yes, Ephesians 6:4 requires parents to bring up children "in the training and admonition of the Lord," but it is also an admonition not to provoke them to anger.

A parallel passage (Col. 3:20,21) warns against exasperating children, causing them to become discouraged. In I Thessalonians 2:5-11, Paul compares himself to a father with his own children (and to a nursing mother) when he describes his emotional interaction with new Christians. He speaks of gentleness, affection, and encouragement, He tells them they are dear to him. It is important for parents to express as well as feel these emotions. Someone has well said: "Children are not likely to see much of a Father in God, unless they see something of God in their father."

It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a father. Ponder that for a moment. It reminds me of the little girl I heard about who looked her dad in the face and said, "You're better than just a father. You're a daddy!"

Every Christian home should be concerned about the hearts of the fathers and their children. If time is any measure of the heart (and it is since we treasure what we devote time to), many fathers have improvements to make. The research of Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner showed the dichotomy of how much time fathers think they spend with their children and how much time they actually share. When fathers were asked to estimate how much time they spent playing and interacting with their small children, estimates averaged from 15-20 minutes per day. Microphones were then attached to the fathers and one study showed the "average dad-child times was 37 seconds a day."

One cartoonist drew the characterization of a young boy standing next to his father's recliner. The father was engrossed in the sports page, while the impatient boy pounded the leather of his baseball glove. Finally, the energetic little guy said, "Play with me or trade me!"

Ephesians 6:4 demands that parental time be given to children. If little time is invested, when will the child be taught and loved by the parents? When will the child be loved and admonished in the Lord's way?

What do you know about Eli? Let's read about he and his sons in the Old Testament:

"Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD...Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. So he said to them, 'Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the LORD's people transgress. If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?' Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, and the LORD desired to kill them...Then a man came to Eli and said to him, 'Thus says the LORD:..."Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?"'" (I Sam. 2:12,22-25,27,29).

Eli had lost his influence over his sons. It is tragic when a servant of the Lord (especially a high priest) fails to win his own sons to the Lord! David made the same mistake with Adonijah (cf. I Kings 1:5,6) whom he never told "No." It eventually got Adonijah killed.

Eli was a careless father in that he failed to restrain his sons. He did try to talk to them, but it was too little, too late. He contented himself with a gentle reproof, and did not severely rebuke, punish, and effectively curtail their embarrassing lifestyles. He did not use the authority that God had given him--as a father, a high priest, and a judge--as the law of God commanded him to do (cf. Prov. 27:5).

Eli put his family ahead of God. It was inexcusable for Eli to permit his sons to remain in the priestly office. He did not deprive them of the power to do mischief, which, as a father, high priest, and judge, he could have (and should have) done. Jesus taught - "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of me: and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Matt. 10:37). It seems that Eli loved his sons more than he loved God. Although the wicked acts were attributed to the sons, the father was not guiltless. He who tolerates evil when he has the ability to suppress it is an accomplice, and the blood of guilt is also red on his hands. Eli should have been strict with them when they were young, and have punished them severely when they would not listen to his orders.

Fathers, what about you? Do you put your family ahead of God like Eli did by failing to discipline properly? Sometimes you're going to have to do more than just gently correct your children if you want them to turn out right. Listen to some wisdom from the Old Testament on this theme:

If any in our permissive society object to administering physical punishment on their children, let them be reminded that God, as the perfect Father, uses "chastening" (even "scourging") to correct His children (Heb. 12:5,6). Are we better than the Almighty? Do we know better than He does?

Let parental authority be tempered with fatherly affection, yes, but do not neglect to administer appropriate discipline (which may often by viewed by others as harsh or severe--please note again the above passages from Proverbs). Parental affection without discipline will yield a child that does not respect his parents. Parental authority without an emphasis upon love will yield a child that dreads his parents but does not esteem them. In the first case, obedience is not demanded and is therefore felt to be unnecessary since offenses of great magnitude pass without punishment or rebuke. In the second case, rigid demands render obedience almost impossible and the smallest delinquency is often punished in the extreme, which will often harden the heart of the child in anger or indifference. Parents, this is serious--use wholesome discipline and teach your children to fear God. Begin early in time, mingle severity and mercy together in all your conduct, be diligent, and earnestly pray to God for success.

I heard an English proverb once that said: "Children are a poor man's riches." Regardless of one's economic standing, children are a treasure from God (cf. Psa. 127:3-5). They deserve to be loved and disciplined accordingly that they may reach their fullest potential for the Lord.

Let me conclude by telling you about Tim Kimmel. He is a well known author who does much of his work at a large desk in his office. On the top of this desk are a unique set of pictures. To the far left is a photo of the place where he was born--Jamison Memorial Hospital. At the far right is a picture of the place where he will most likely be buried--Graceland Cemetery. Between those two pictures is a photograph of his wife and children. It's a daily reminder of where life began, where it will end, and what really matters during the in-between time. Life is short, so seize the moment for God, which includes spending quality time with your family for love, teaching, and discipline.

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.