First appeared at SharperIron on July 24, 2009. Larry Blumer, the “Dad” in this essay, went to be the Lord August 17, 2011.
An old adage says that when you’re sixteen your dad doesn’t know anything, when you’re twenty-six he’s occasionally sensible and when you’re thirty-six he’s one of the wisest people you know. I can testify that there is some truth in that observation. Though I still rarely seek my dad’s advice, it’s because—at age forty-three—I have come to realize how much of his advice I’ve already absorbed from growing up around him.
Our Savior bought us with His own blood in order to redeem us and remake us His image. That transformation is central to His great gospel purpose. In my life, He used my dad to accomplish some important parts of that purpose.
I don’t think my dad sat down and planned “I need to teach these four values to my kids.” He did it mostly by just being there and speaking his mind (sometimes quite passionately!) in the context of a life that made what he meant unmistakably clear.
Bob Jones Sr. was fond of saying “The greatest ability is dependability.” But that concept was familiar to me long before I read it in high school. I remember hearing as a kid, “If you say you’re going to do something, you do it. If you say you’re going to be somewhere, you be there,” and other variations on that theme (See Prov. 25:19). Dad wasn’t trying to preach, but his words drove a biblical principle deep into my young mind.
Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.” For whatever is more than these is from the evil one (Matt. 5:36-37, NKJV).
Though Jesus spoke of avoiding oaths, His point was that our word should stand well on its own, and it should do so because we are in the habit of being true rather than looking for ways to weasel out of commitments.
Elsewhere Jesus emphasized that, unlike the fleeing hireling, the Good Shepherd was dependable even to extent of forfeiting of His own life (John 10:11-15). So we, as Christ’s disciples, must highly value dependability in others and insist on it in ourselves.
As we were growing up, my dad didn’t just pay lip service to this principle. He went to great lengths to get us all to church on time consistently (which meant fifteen minutes before starting time). Nor was that rigor just a Swiss-blooded engineer’s passion for precision. No, it was a determination to arrive early enough to prepare to serve in the ways we had agreed to serve. It was an effort to ensure that, when events began, we would already be in position and ready to fulfill our part. To Dad, a commitment to be there was a commitment to be there at the beginning and all the way to the end.
I wish I could say I’m an outstandingly dependable guy. What I can say is that Dad’s influence has made me much more dependable than I would otherwise be.
Dependability is an expression of the deeper value of responsibility. As a character trait, responsibility is twofold. A responsible person is one who clearly sees what his or her obligations are in any situation and, secondly, fully owns those obligations. A deeply responsible person sees no tension at all between love and duty because he feels deeply that fulfilling his duty is love in action. So he does his duty with joy.
We find a powerful example of responsible character in Joseph. His sense of obligation to God and Potiphar is a thing of beauty.
But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:8-9)
Of course, we find the supreme example of responsible character in Christ, whom Joseph foreshadowed:
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. (John 4:34)
For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 6:38)
…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2)
My dad would sometimes observe, “People are so irresponsible these days!” It would not have sounded like “teaching” to a bystander. But it truly was. We heard these kinds of things while sitting in our house and while walking by the way (Deut. 6:6-7), and they stuck.
Growing up, I saw my dad always working—not like the stereotypical career man who’s job is always intruding on “family time,” but like the honest man who values industry. He was continually doing work that did not have to be done (at least not so thoroughly), but which he did because, among other things, he liked to be constantly producing. Whether it was building an addition on the house, or making a table, or tilling the garden, or just mowing and trimming, Dad was never one for idleness (which made his day of rest on Sunday a sharp contrast).
In this he also modeled Christlikeness. Jesus emphasized His role as a worker on the earth, as John especially notes. After He healed a blind man at Bethesda—on the Sabbath, no less—the Pharisees took issue with Jesus. His answer? “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (5:17). Like Father, like Son. Later in His ministry, He summarized the principle.
Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. (John 9:3-4)
Industry has been our calling since the creation. Arguably, one reason God spread His work over six days (rather than six nanoseconds) was so that we could look back on the record and see God work. And when God put Adam in the garden He had designed for him, God’s instructions were not “I’ve made a perfect place for you so take it easy, soak up the sun, float in the river, sleep all you want.” Rather, the perfect place for Adam was one in which he would occupy himself tending and keeping (Gen. 2:15).
The Proverbs also laud productive activity. We’re told that “the labor of the righteous leads to life” (Prov. 10:16), and that being “slothful” is akin to being actively destructive (Prov. 18:19). Thorough work habits result in standing “before kings” rather than “unknown men” (Prov. 22:29). Proverbs 14:23 acts as a good summary: “In all labor there is profit, But idle chatter leads only to poverty.”
Many in my generation are overly critical of hard working dads because they have unknowingly accepted a standard of good fatherhood that is much more, frankly, maternal. Would it really be a good thing if every home had an ever-present, chatty, emotionally-expressive, highly-empathetic dad? I wonder. What I know is that my own ever-industrious father instilled something in me that has resulted in far less “folding of the hands to sleep” (Prov. 6:10-11) in my life than my nature would prefer. And I’m the better for it.
One of my dad’s pet peeves made an impression on me as a child. On one occasion as we were driving around rural Michigan, he said something like “Look at that fence!” I wondered out loud what was wrong with it. Dad enlightened me.
“It’s built all wrong. See how the boards angle up and down at random between the posts? He should have used a level or lined the boards up with the ground.” I really didn’t see what he was talking about but got the point anyway. There’s a right way and wrong way to build a fence. Over the years of living with Dad, I learned that there’s a right way and several wrong ways to do pretty much everything (I was really good at finding the wrong ways!).
What he was instilling in my young mind was an awareness of quality.
Excellent quality is undervalued everywhere, but evangelicals and fundamentalists have a special form of quality aversion. Because high quality requires discipline, the appearance of rigidity and much sweating of the “small stuff,” pursuing it seems hostile to the warm, spontaneous, gracious tolerance many see as the Christian ideal.
But the apparent toxicity of quality-mindedness is illusory. How can believers be hostile toward the pursuit of excellence when superb quality is so near the heart of God Himself? In the creation narrative, Moses points out no less than seven times that God paused, evaluated and concluded that His work was “good.” His quality assessment culminates in 1:31. “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” The implication is that had it not been very good (an impossibility for God) He would have either scrapped the project or insisted on fixing it.
Whether it’s building fences, writing papers, singing, yard work, painting, plumbing, driving or school work (or, alas, building websites), God’s redeemed should pursue excellent quality in it. We cannot all achieve the same level of quality, but we can all aim to achieve the highest quality possible.
What am I teaching?
Space doesn’t permit me to elaborate on the sobriety, discipline, respect, love of creation and many other things I learned from my dad. The four I’ve mentioned rise to the surface of my heart and mind in one way or another nearly every day. And they prompt me often to reflect. What are my children learning from me?