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The Ultimate Father-Son Chat
Several years ago I came across an unusual story of Larry Walters. In fact, so unusual that before I repeated it, I’d check it out to see if it was an urban legend. It isn’t. I even saw his picture and the pictures of his famous lawn chair.
It seems that Larry had a life-long dream to fly. When he graduated from high school, he joined the Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, his poor eyesight ended that particular dream.
When he left the service, he enjoyed sitting out in his lawn chair, watching the fighter jets that crisscrossed the skies over his backyard.
Then one day, Larry Walters got an idea. With the help of his girlfriend, they bought some helium tanks and weather balloons from the local army-navy surplus store, telling the store owner that they were going to be used in a commercial shoot by his company.
They filled the balloons which had been tied them to his lawn chair. He climbed into the lawn chair with some sandwiches and drinks and his trusty BB gun. The lawn chair was anchored by a rope to the bumper of his jeep.
His plan was to hover about 2-300 feet in the air and then pop a few of the balloons when it was time to settle back down to earth.
Lawn-chair Larry, as he was about to become known around the world, cut the rope on July 2, 1982. But he didn’t float lazily up; he shot upward as if fired from a cannon. And he didn’t climb to a couple hundred feet. He finally leveled off at 16,000 feet – or, if you can imagine it, 3 miles up. He didn’t know what to do – he was certainly too afraid to shoot any of the balloons which might cause an imbalance and toss him out of his lawn chair. So he just hung on.
He finally drifted from San Pedro, California into the approach corridor for the Los Angeles International Airport. A pilot radioed the tower about “passing a guy in a lawn chair.”
A rescue helicopter was dispatched but every time it got near him, the current of wind pushed him dangerously away. Can’t you just see that? Whoa . . .
Finally, Larry got up the nerve and shot one balloon and then another and another and he slowly descended, until the balloons got caught in a power line, causing a neighborhood in Long Beach to experience a blackout! He was, however, able to climb down whereupon he was immediately arrested.
Imagine that final indignity. He is put under arrest. But you can just see law enforcement scratching their heads to try and figure out what to charge him with. They ended up charging him, and I quote – “for operating an aircraft without an airworthiness certificate,” and, get this: “not maintaining contact with air traffic control.”
As he was being led away by LAPD, a reporter asked, “Hey, why’d you do it?” and Larry responded, “Well, a man can’t just sit around.”
Adapted from Stories for the Heart (Multnomah, 1996), p. 97 & wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Walters
Obviously, he should have sat around a little longer . . . thought it through more clearly . . . experimented first, you know, with 2 balloons and the neighbor’s cat. No harm done.
He went for everything on the first try. When I read this story again, I wondered, did he think through some things?
What about low flying aircraft?
What if the balloons burst or leaked?
Did he know if the ropes were strong enough and tied well enough to connect the balloons and the chair?
And just how did you steer a lawn chair?
And that’s just for starters.
I couldn’t help but think that parenting is a lot like Larry’s flight into space.
There’s no time to experiment. You arrive at the hospital in time and before you’re ready or hardly repaired, they’re moving you out . . . hey, insurance only covers 48 hours . . . we need that room back.
Just to show you how things have changed, Marsha delivered our twins 22 year ago this month at Baylor Hospital in Dallas. Marsha was in the hospital for 4 days. Not because she was ill or the boys were under special care – that was just the standard length of time. And before we checked out, we were served a full course dinner in their special parlor for new parents – it was standard operating procedure for all new parents at Baylor Hospital. Steak and baked potato cooked to order.
They don’t do that anymore. You barely have time to recover from the shock of it all before you’re sent home and then they’ve charged you for everything – they charge you for using the mirror. All those people who walked through the delivery room did that just so they could bill you later.
But you finally get home. And you’ve got everything ready at home, though, right? Baby bed and dresser on loan from friends or family; a dresser filled with little outfits and pajamas with footies; and cases of baby lotion and baby powder . . . and a plastic tub for bath time and on and on and on. Most of it on loan or borrowed from friends.
Except for the car seat – that was a special purchase. It morphs from a car seat into a stroller into a changing table and then into a high chair . . . it’s amazing. You were able to purchase the newest model by taking out that second mortgage.
But before you know it, you’re airborne . . . and you’re going higher and faster and further away from everything you know than you ever planned.
Up there you can’t catch your breath. Some moments are exhilarating, most of the time it was exhausting. I’m saying this and I got to leave the house 8 hours a day. Have a great day honey . . . I’m praying for you!
Well meaning friends drop in to help or give advice, to give you the latest book on the personality development of 8 week olds – and how you can really mess it up. The wind they create makes your ride all that more difficult.
You soon discover – and it only takes a few days at it – that there may be a formula you can feed them, but there is no formula to raise them. Each child is unique and different.
And by the time you figure out the basics of parenting . . . the ride is over and you are under arrest – I mean, you’re an empty nester.
For young parents and old; in fact, for grandparents who are flying in that new territory for the first time, God actually has a lot to say about what really matters.
I want to spend a couple of sessions together with you exploring what Proverbs has to say to parents. It won’t be about what kind of diaper increases their I.Q. or where they’re supposed to be on the percentage scale of 3 week olds . . . or why they must be able to crawl by 6 months and walk by 10 if they are to be superior human beings. By the way, one of our sons never learned how to crawl properly. He just pulled himself along with one arm, like some wounded soldier crawling under a fence. I even got down on the floor and tried to show him how. I was convinced at the time that this son, who would later be named to the all state soccer team, just wasn’t able to do stuff babies are supposed to do.
We’re not going to talk about that . . . God doesn’t seem to be worried about percentage points and diaper selection.
We want to talk about things that matter over the long haul. Things that matter.
Ask the average father today if he’s had “the talk” with his middle schooler or high schooler and he will respond, “You mean the talk?” “Oh yea . . . have you had the talk?”
Ask the average father what “the talk is about” and they’ll say it has something to do with the birds and bees, right?
Not that it’s wrong to have that talk . . . in fact, Solomon spends quite a bit of time talking about the dangers of being sexually involved with someone you’re not married to . . . and we’ll probably look at that in a future session.
What I find fascinating is that while most fathers who would argue that they must have a talk with their sons or daughters about sexual matters, will never talk to them about scripture; the character of God; eternal life; election; eternal security; grace; giving; and on and on.
Listen, what the church needs and what families need is for parents to communicate to their children issues of character and values and priorities and submission to God and honesty and on and on and on.
Frankly God knew we would need direction concerning what to talk about with our children and so He gave us plenty of guidance on the subject matter.
Turn to Proverbs chapter 4 and to what I will call, The Ultimate Father-Son chat.
Let me divide our study into 2 principles that make up a wise session of parental counsel.
Two Principles of Wise Parental Counsel:
- The principle of spiritual edification
The objective of this principle is telling them the truth.
Notice what Solomon writes in verse 1, Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father.
This is the first and only place where the word “son” is plural, but since the chapter switches later to the singular, it seems that
Solomon is making sure, first of all, that this is good advice for all sons – in fact, for every child.
Another thing to keep in mind is that although the father is mentioned in this text, both parents are responsible for the teaching process.
Solomon writes in chapter 1 verse 8, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.”
In chapter 6 he writes, my son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the law of your mother. (v. 20)
It’s clear that the teaching of both mother and father are instructive and necessary in the development of the child.
However, it seems that the Spirit of God is focusing the lens of inspired scripture, here in chapter 4, on the father.
These are issues that the father must communicate to his sons.
Tell them the truth about what God said.
Teach them who God is . . . and what He’s about. Build them up in the faith – this is edification. This was Paul’s desire toward his children in the faith when he reminded them, “to speak the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ . . . causing the growth of the body for the edification or building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
Solomon is basing his father-son chat on delivery of the truth in love. He writes in Proverbs 4 and verse 2. For I give you sound teaching; do not abandon my instruction.
We would easily turn this around and say, wait a minute, this text is a command that the child should listen to the father deliver the truth.
You’re right. But it also implies that the father has truth to deliver.
The word instruction in verse 4 comes from the Hebrew word for Torah.
Teach your son the law and the statutes and the principles of God’s word.
This text is revealing a very personal father-son encounter relating to the word of God; teaching them the truth of God.
Bruce K. Waltke, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Proverbs 1-15 (Eerdmans, 2004), p. 277
This principle of spiritual edification is expanded in Deuteronomy 6, where Moses records, “You shall teach them diligently (these truths) to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
What a wonderful text. We build up and strengthen our children when we make the word of God our common theme . . . it’s not an event on our calendar that starts at 7:00 am or ends with a bedtime story. This is a lifestyle – just talking . . . sitting . . . walking . . . before you lie down and when you get up in the morning. In a fishing boat – that’s in the Hebrew text.
The truth is, your children have questions about spiritual things and they come up with them at times you can’t put into your calendar . . . when you might not even be fully prepared.
This is Proverbs chapter 4 and Deuteronomy 6 applied in real terms . . . we edify our children by applying the truth of God’s word wherever life happens.
Someone in our church sent me last week some brand new questions from kids – I hadn’t seen these, but they perfectly illustrate what just might come out if you provoke your children to talk about the Lord.
If these elementary school kids were given the opportunity to ask God one question – here’s what they’d ask:
Dear God, (Neil wrote)
I went to this wedding and they kissed right in church. Is that OK? And God’s answer was, “Only for weddings, right?”
“In Bible times, did they really talk that fancy?”
Robert prayed, “Dear God, I am an American . . . what are you?”
Dear God, Jane asked, “Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you got now?”
Some of them didn’t have questions . . . but they had something they wanted to say, like Jonathan, who wrote, “Dear God, if you let the dinosaur not extinct we would not have a country. You did the right thing.”
Nan wrote, “I bet it is very hard for you to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are 4 people in my family and I can’t do it.”
Joyce must have felt the same way when she wrote, “Dear God, Thank you for my baby brother . . . what I prayed for was a puppy.”
Elliot wrote, “Dear God, I think about you sometimes even when I’m not praying.”
I wondered as I read that if Elliot’s parents have any idea that there are times with Elliot thinks about God.
Who’s going to answer their questions and guide his thoughts?
Why is it that most Mom’s do the bedtime reading? That’s a great place for Dads to get involved. You never know what you’ll hear. In those unguarded moments, spiritual truth can be reiterated with simple yet profound meaning.
This is the principle of spiritual edification. It is the mission of the parent to base their decisions and conversations on God’s truth – God’s instruction – God’s law.
This is a life-long conversation.
That leads me to the second principle of wise counsel from parents:
- It is the principle of spiritual imitation
The first principle of spiritual edification requires mentoring.
This second principle of spiritual imitation requires modeling.
Mom and Dad, it’s one thing to lecture about the truth; it’s another thing to live out the truth.
Our children really don’t care if we delineate the truth – if we have no desire to demonstrate the truth.
And this is where every parent gets intimidated. This is where it gets hard, right?
But listen, at those moments when you weren’t perfect, you actually get an opportunity to demonstrate confession. You get to model how to ask the Lord for forgiveness.
Wouldn’t it be great if our kids knew we knew how to confess our sins.
At that point, we teach them that our Lord is indeed faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
Notice what Solomon writes in verse 3. When I was a son to my father . . .
This is a reference not so much to biological kinship as it is submission to the father’s counsel.
Don’t miss this. Solomon is saying to his son, more than likely a reference specifically to Rehoboam, “Let me tell you what Grandpa said.” Verse 4. Then he – that is, your grandfather David – taught me and said to me, let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live.
Solomon is accomplishing a couple of things here:
- First, he’s reinforcing his advice with the past.
He says, “Listen, Rehoboam, when I was a son like you, I heard the same thing.”
Doesn’t this sound a lot like, “Let me tell you about the time when I was a boy . . . I used to walk 3 miles to a one room schoolhouse in the snow. So stop complaining about the bus ride at 6:30 in the morning.
And be grateful with the lunch you have – don’t waste it. Why, when I was a boy, I took my lunch to that one room schoolhouse – and it was a raw potato – most of the farm boys did the same thing and we’d put our potato on top of that black wood burning stove during school and by lunchtime it would be cooked through and ready to eat. I’d have a little pat of butter in my pocket and that potato and butter would be my lunch.
Oh c’mon on. Nobody did that? Oh . . . my father actually did.
That was actually his true story . . . he really walked to a one room schoolhouse out in the farmland of Minnesota, carrying his potato and butter for lunch. Sometimes he’d shoot a rabbit on the way home for supper . . . no, I made that part up. My brothers and I would say, “Yea, but Dad, were you barefoot?” “No, I had one pair of boots.”
How do you complain about not having butterscotch pudding in your lunch box after a story like that? Not to mention the stories of my grandfather arriving in Minnesota in a covered wagon.
Listen, there is something powerful about a heritage that passes on to us the contexts of gratitude and grace and courage and grit and determination and honest work and speaking the truth.
Tell your children stories about your childhood – trust me, they’ll think yours are just as strange.
But, let them know how you might have struggled . . . or felt out of place. Tell them how the word – the law of God – intersected your life. That’s the ultimate father-son chat.
Tell your children how and when you accepted Christ? That’s way more important than the birds and the bees . . . learning to drive a car . . . operate a bank account . . . dress for success.
The truth of God and about God and for the pleasure of God is the ultimate father-son chat.
Solomon is saying, “Listen, let me back the tape up . . . when I was a boy, I received this instruction from your Grandfather David who attempted to model it – not perfectly, but progressively – and now I’m giving this hidden treasure to you.
This truth of God’s word and it mattered back then and it matters today . . . and it will matter in your future.”
Solomon not only reinforces his advice with the past;
- Secondly, he identifies with his son in the present.
He says in verse 3. “When I was a son to my father, tender and the only son in the sight of my mother. . .” . . . when I was a tender son. That word tender can be translated – pliable and weak . . . impressionable. Solomon is basically saying, “I know what it’s like to be young . . . I know how you feel.”
And listen, just as your grandfather told me, now I’m passing it along to you – verse 5. Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Wisdom will guard you – verse 6 – and watch over you.
How many fathers have said, “Get a haircut . . . get your room cleaned . . . get a job . . . get an education . . .” . . . but how many have said, “Whatever you do . . . get wisdom!
Nothing matters more than finding the hidden treasure of wisdom!
You can an educated fool. You can highly paid and miserable; you can be the best dressed and the most likely to succeed who is filled with himself.
Get wisdom – first and foremost.
This is the urgency of a father toward his son. Notice verse 8. Prize her – wisdom – and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a garland of grace and will present you with a crown of beauty.
Sweetheart, let me tell you what real beauty is all about. Let me tell you what will draw people to you;
Son let me tell you what will make you handsome . . . what you really ought to wear . . . what will make you stand up and stand out . . . it has nothing really to do with how you look, or what you own, or what you wear . . . it has to do with who you are and who you serve.
This is stuff that lasts. Wisdom delivers grace and beauty – in this context these are not physical attributes, they are the fruit of wisdom in the inner attitude and spirit.
You want to have a father-son chat? For starters, it’s not a one time event . . . it’s often in life . . . in fact, you will always be a parent and you will always be somebody’s child.
How blessed are the children whose parents care deeply about the hidden treasure of wisdom . . . and communicate to the next generation with this principle of edification and this principle of imitation.
Charlie Shedd is one of those fathers’ that I envy . . . he not only dedicated his wisdom to his children, but he wrote much of it down for them to have later in life.
Just not quite the same for me to say to my kids, “Here, listen to these CD series.”
Charlie’s son would become the recipient of a number of letters to his son.
These letters eventually were published in a small book.
In one of his original promises, he told of this event. Peter and I had been out in the country for a ride. It was evening and [wouldn’t you know it] we ran out of gas. We were walking along after we had been to a nearby farmhouse and I was carrying a can of gasoline – returning to our car to get it going again. Philip was only four years old at the time. He was playing along, throwing rocks at the telephone poles, picking flowers and then, all of a sudden it got dark. Night just came all at once. Philip came over, put his little hand in mine and said, “Take my hand, Daddy. I might get lost.”
Later on, Charlie Shedd would write, “Son, there is a hand reaching to you from the heart of the universe. If you will lay your hand in the hand of God and walk with Him, you will never ever get lost.”
Adapted from Charles Swindoll, Family Life (Multnomah Press, 1988), p. 44
What great advice . . . what lasting encouragement.
This is the truth that our children and grandchildren must hear from our lips . . . this is the truth they must see modeled in our lives.
Now, it might not change your child’s life . . . I don’t know; but I do know that it will change yours.
And that’s the best place to start.