Freed from a Father’s Legacy

Ken Gurley

On Father’s Day, I generally make the sermon more challenging than that of Mother’s Day. Men respond well to challenges and so I give them one.

The most challenging Father’s Day message I have ever heard preached was from the text where Zebedee’s sons, James and John, followed after Jesus but he stayed with the boats. The preacher called it, “You too, Daddy.” Tore my heart out – of course, most messages regarding fathers do.

This thought came from one of Pentecost’s greatest preachers, Ron Libby. He shared the picture of mercy found amidst the psalms dedicated to the Sons of Korah. I didn’t forget it and it gave birth to this message. So, thanks Brother Libby!

I went dark with this message – meaning that I called attention to the fact that many fathers let down their children. Yet, rather than perpetuating this failed cycle, there is freedom to begin a new legacy.

I. Opening Illustration to Father’s Day.

In May we’ve gathered to honor Mom.

In June, we gather to honor Dad.

The two days should seem similar, but they feel miles apart.

Last year on Mother’s Day, one report said that 178 million cards were sent in the mail.

The same report said that only 100 million cards were sent on Father’s Day.

The highest number of phone calls is made on Mother’s Day.

The highest number of collect phone calls is made on Father’s Day.

In J. C. Penny’s survey of what people give their fathers is interesting. The number one gift is ties – big surprise. The second answer is no surprise either – nothing.

Why is that no surprise? Mother’s Day is all about mom. But, on Father’s Day the attention is split between fathers and their children who made them fathers. We could more right call it a Father/Child Day. Father’s Day is when a father is awakened to what he means to his children and what they mean to him.

What is a dad?

A dad is someone who wants to catch you before you fall but instead picks you up, brushes you off, and lets you try again. A dad is some one who wants to keep you from making mistakes but instead lets you find your own way, even though his heart breaks in silence when you get hurt. A dad is someone who holds you when you cry, scolds you when you break the rules, shines with pride when you succeed, and has faith in you even when you fail… Dad, you’re everything a dad should be and some.
-Susan Ceylise

We pay tribute to such men – men who are everything a dad should be and then some. Your presence in a child’s life is so valuable. Countless statistics show that a father present in the home lowers out-of-wedlock birthrates in children, alcoholism, drug use, poverty, criminal activity and juvenile delinquency.

Numbers don’t lie, but when I read some like the following – I wish they did.

85% of the men in penitentiaries today came from fatherless homes.
Nearly 25 million children do not live with their biological fathers.
49% of children of divorced parents haven’t seen their dad in a year.

To those of you who have your fathers, you are doubly blessed. But, today – I want to speak to those who labor under a dark legacy of a father that was not all he should have been. I speak to the scarred hearts of those who were ignored, abused, or abandoned. Permit me to help point you to the way of freedom….

Numbers 26
7 These are the families of the Reubenites: and they that were numbered of them were forty and three thousand and seven hundred and thirty.
8 And the sons of Pallu; Eliab.
9 And the sons of Eliab; Nemuel, and Dathan, and Abiram. This is that Dathan and Abiram, which were famous in the congregation, who strove against Moses and against Aaron in the company of Korah, when they strove against the LORD:
10 And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up together with Korah, when that company died, what time the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men: and they became a sign.
11 Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.

Psalm 84.10
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I rather be a door keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.

II. Text.

Freed From A Father’s Legacy.

A. Setting: The Man Named Korah.

Korah was a name that either means baldness’ or “ice.” I’m content to let your mind wander over that bit of knowledge. Perhaps of greater import are the similarities Korah shared with Moses and Aaron.

Like Moses and Aaron, Korah was a descendant of Levi. All three were grandsons of Kohath making them first cousins.

Each was involved in Israel’s wilderness journey from Egypt to Canaan.

Each witnessed the Nile River turn to blood.

Each saw frogs hopping at will across the land. Each beheld the locusts.

Each watched the waters of the Red Sea race back like frightened kittens.

Each passed through on dry ground.

Each collected the miraculous manna and drank from the rock that followed.

Each was cooled with the cloud by day and warmed with the pillar of fire by night.

Each was involved in serving God… and that’s where the trouble began.

Cousin Korah didn’t like his job description. Moses got to lead Israel. Aaron was the high priest. Korah was limited to serving around the tabernacle, the house of God. It is thought that Korah and his sons were the gatekeepers, porters, bakers and perhaps the singers (I Chronicles 9; 26; II Chronicles 20; 23:19).

In modern vernacular, Korah had the responsibility for the nursery, sound room, and janitor’s closet. As today, Korah’s work could become tedious. People who do this can easily become invisible to everyone coming in and out of God’s house.

Korah obviously felt unappreciated and undervalued. He viewed his role as subservient to that of Moses and Aaron. His cousins got the glory. His cousins got the limelight. His cousins felt the eyes of the people looking their direction.

Korah soon looked through the twin emerald-green eyes of envy and jealousy

B. Speaking Points.

1. A man’s sense of worth is usually derived from his work.

What Korah felt is perhaps true of most men. We tend to rank our selves by our work. Unhappy men are usually those who are unhappy on their job. Happy men are usually those who are happy on their job.

In a man’s mind, “worth” equals “work.”

This fact is found in the creation of man. Before Adam was given a wife, he was given work. A woman might work because she is forced to or even desires to, but a man works because he must. He was made to work. Dead-end jobs, meaningless employment, and ungrateful supervisors are common struggles within the psyche of a man.
Was Korah’s work meaningless? No. Although it did not receive the applause and the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the more public ministries, Korah and his sons were in a unique position – they were serving in God’s House!

Most men would have given their eye teeth for such a job. Few occupations afford a father the ability to see his children working along side him. Korah had such a job. In God’s House, he could be both father and employer to his children. He could train them and watch them grow into adults he could be proud of.

But, Korah failed to see beyond the immediate tasks. He didn’t understand why cousin Moses would have his sons pitch the tabernacle, set up the furniture only to come around in the middle of the night and say, “It’s time to leave! Look the pillar is moving!”

It’s not hard to imagine Korah grumbling, “Couldn’t they make up their minds? They are playing games with me. They just enjoy watching me sweat. They don’t care about what it takes to make the house of God tick – they just want the house ready when it is time for them show out in front of the people.”

Korah saw the other side of God’s house. He saw the ashes to be removed; the carcasses to be hauled away; the drapes to be cleaned. He saw the pettiness of people; the ingratitude of others; the nonchalance of people in God’s house. There were many precious stones in God’s house – but, no jade. That is….until Korah grew jaded.

Perhaps, Moses and Aaron on occasion tried to reason with Korah. If there was no mess, no spilled blood, no carcass, no ashes – there would be no praise to God. Perhaps they told Korah that he wasn’t doing it for them, but for God. No job is too dirty to do for God.

Maybe that was Korah’s problem. He didn’t realize that each of us is given a work to do. It is up to us to make it worthy for God.

So what Moses gets to go up into the Mountain?
So what Aaron goes into the Holiest of Holies once a year?
Korah, you have a work. It’s a good work. It’s a needful work, and you are needed.

Ingratitude attracts ill company. Two Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, soon joined with Korah. Perhaps, their beef was that they were from the biggest tribe, but all the good jobs went to the tribe of Levi. In the light of the flickering campfires, beneath the burning shining of God’s glory – the complaints begin.

The leaven of complaint soon led to obvious confrontation. These men stood before Moses and Aaron saying, “You take too much on yourself.”

Korah and his cohorts forgot one thing – you can’t take what has been given to you. Moses and Aaron didn’t divvy up the jobs. God did.

The scene is memorable. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are commanded to stand with censers in their hands – symbols of worship – before the entrances to their tents. From their tents, the scheme had been concocted; in front of their tents, the scheme would be judged. With their wives and children about them, they stood with censers blazing until it happened. . . the earth began to shake. Then, it opened and swallowed them whole. About 250 men who backed Korah saw fire come down from heaven to slay them. Heaven and earth joined together in one cataclysmic display to destroy.

Their forsaken censers were all that remained. These were taken, pounded flat and then hung along side the brazen altar to tell every one who approached God’s house, “Don’t be like Korah.

What a sorry legacy! We too often make the mistake to think that a man’s worth is only equal to his work. Korah belatedly learned the truth.

2. A man’s lasting worth is his name.

Within the name of Korah, there is a legacy. It is the same with all fathers. We pass down legacies that either heal or hinder.

For those of us with great memories of our fathers, Father’s Day is a wonderful time to reflect on the legacy left to us. Yet, the same day affects others differently. The legacy they inherited was of a father who didn’t value the meaning of his name.

For some men, we strive to be like our dads. For other men, they desire to be nothing like their dads.

They run as hard and as fast as they can from the shadows and memories of their fathers. To be told they are like their fathers make them cringe. If you are in this building today, please let me encourage you – there is freedom from such a legacy. You can be the father your father wasn’t to your children.

Three ways and three quick stories to illustrate how to become that father.

A man who values his name keeps his promises.

I read the story of a woman named Kristi Powers. Like most men, her father wasn’t sentimental. He never made over her. She knew he loved her through a promise he kept.

When Kristi was sixteen, she knew her parents’ marriage was on the rocks. Her dad grew sullen and despondent. He would say nothing. Everything in the house was a strain. Finally, his mother sat down with Kristi and the other children and said, “Your father is leaving me.” On the evening prior to his departure, Kristi went to her room and wrote a long letter to her father telling him how much she and Jesus loved him. Then, she wrote these words, “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be called a ‘daddy’.” She took the letter and buried it in his luggage.

A few days later, Kristi came home from school to find her mother crying. She told her daughter that she had just hung up the phone talking with her dad. He had called and said that the marriage might require some work but that it was worth saving. Then, she stopped and said, “Whatever you told your Father in your letter meant a lot to him.”

Her father returned. Nothing was ever said between Kristi and her father about the letter. His return was an unspoken promise, “I’m here to be a daddy to you.” Her parents were married for thirty-six years until her father at the early age of 53 passed away. Among his things was a letter he wanted Kristi to have – a letter written from a sixteen year old girl. He wanted her to know that he had kept his promise.

A father doesn’t give up. When the going gets rough, he realizes that there are things more important than momentary happiness and the fleeting relief of stepping out of the yoke. His children deserve a father who loves their mother and who lives a life of integrity before them.

A man who values his name remains honest.

He was eleven. At midnight, the bass season would open. That evening, he and his father practiced tossing some lures from the dock that jutted out into the tranquil New Hampshire lake. The boy had just tossed a new silver spoon into the lake when his fishing rod doubled over. A very large fish was on the other end.

Slowly, he worked the fish to the dock. Together, father and son lifted a large bass from the water. The father looked at his watch – 10 pm. “Son, you’ll have to put it back.” “Dad!” cried the boy. “Son, there will be another fish.” The son didn’t think so.
No one was around. No one was watching. But, the son knew the tone in his father’s voice. He worked the hook out of the fish’s mouth and lowered the fish into black waters. He suspected he would never see a fish as big again.

Time passed and the boy grew to be a successful architect in New York City. He still fishes from the same dock where he learned a les son – the greatest catch in life isn’t worth being dishonest.

Fathers teach things like that. It’s a lasting legacy.

A man who values his name never gives up.

When Mark was five years old, his parents divorced. He lived with his mom. His dad enlisted in the armed forces and was sent over seas.

As time passed, Mark’s memories of his father grew dim. The years in junior high, high school, and college streaked by. Then, Mark was married and had a son of his own. While shaving one day, his son said, “Dad you look like a clown with whipped cream on your face.” Mark laughed and a memory stirred. He remembered a similar incident just before his dad disappeared while he had watched his own father shave.

It had been a long time since Mark had spoken of his father to his mother. Even now, after all these years, it was difficult. She said that she didn’t know if Mark’s dad had any family still alive. She said, “You might try the United States embassy in England. They might be able to help you.”

Chances were slim, but Mark obtained the phone number and made the overseas phone call. The voice on the other end answered, “US Embassy. How may we help you?” Mark said, “Uh. . . my name is Mark Sullivan and….I’m looking for my father.” After a long pause, the voice on the other end grew animated and asked, “Is this a Mr. Mark Joseph Sullivan?” Mark said, “Yes.” “You were born in Vincennes, Indiana at the Good Samaritan Hospital on October 19, 1970?” “Yes,” Mark answered with growing excitement.

“Mark, please don’t hang up,” the voice said. Then, Mark heard the person an ocean away shout, “Everyone, listen! I have terrific news. Lieutenant Ronald L. Sullivan’s son is on the phone. He found us!” There was a roar of people clapping, cheering, laughing and some even praising God.

“Mark,” the voice said, “We’re so glad you called…Your father has been coming here in person or calling almost every day for the past nine years – seeing if we have located you.”

The following day, Mark’s phone rang. It was his father calling. Every six months since Mark was five, his father had come home to the states to find him. He could never find where they lived. But, a man who values his name – never gives up. (True story, names changed).

Dad, don’t give up.
Dad, keep on believing. Keep trying.
Show your kids the greatest trait in a successful father – persistence.
Whether you feel appreciated or not – keep working.

Don’t be like Korah.

3. A man inherits his name, but not his attitude.

I don’t understand it. I can’t explain it.
The Bible says that Dathan, his wife and children were killed.
The Bible says that Abiram, his wife and children were killed.
But, things were different with Korah’s family. We read in our text,
“Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.”

God gave the children a chance to outlive their father’s legacy.
They resumed their jobs as porters and servants in God’s house.
The sons of Korah resumed their jobs as gatekeepers.

They picked up their harps and sang. It seems that one of their descendants, Heman, was chosen by King David as worship leader. When Solomon’s temple was built, the sons of Korah joined in singing at its dedication.

What is this? They did the same job as their father initially, but something was different – their attitude.

Psalms 84:1-4, 10

1 How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
3 Yea, the sparrow bath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.
4 Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah.
10 For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.

Oh, that’s how we should feel about working in God’s house! Notice though the superscription at the beginning of the psalm – “to the chief musician upon Gittith. A psalm for the sons of Korah.”
This is the answer to every hurting person here – You may not have received a great name; but like the sons of Korah, you can be spared a father’s legacy. Go back to where he failed and pick it up again. Stay in the presence of God and you can restore what was lost.

And, let’s get it straight this time. I love your house, God.
If I was a bird, I’d build my nest there.
I’ll raise my kids there.
I just want to be in your house – regardless of what I’m doing
I inherited my name, but not my attitude.

III. Conclusion.

You may have had a great father. Be thankful.
For those who did not, you can worship your way into a new legacy.

In a way though, we have all been affected. Jesus told the unbelieving Jews:

John 8:44

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

Each of us was of our father the devil. All of us were born into sin. Each of us needs a new father – a heavenly father.

I John 3:2-3

2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure.

Today, if you see too much of your old father – switch fathers. You can be freed from a father’s legacy.

Excerpted from: “Preaching For A New Millennium” “The Bones Go Too”
By Ken Gurley