I dedicate today’s #RadicalWords to my eldest son, Samuel C. Smith II, who turns 12 years old today.  Happy Birthday!

#RadicalWords – Ephesians 6:4 (ESV)

[4] Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus has recently become one of my favorite books of the New Testament.  The entire letter is filled with instruction and application which #RadicalMen should be following when interacting with the Gospel (Ephesians 3), the body of Christ (Ephesians 4), our spouse (Ephesians 5:22-33), our children (Ephesians 6:1-4), and with the world at large and it’s director the Devil (Ephesians 5:1-21Ephesians 6:10-20).  Given the nature of this special occasion, the 12 year mark of the birth of my son, I am of course drawn to a simple instruction on how as a father I am called to interact with him.  The instruction is simple, with only two parts: (1) do not provoke your kids to anger, and (2) bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  Regrettably however, I have failed on at least one of these two objectives and there is still work to be done on the other; fortunately there is still time (God willing) to “get-r-done.”

Son, I have told you before, but it bears repeating, how sorrowful I feel for the crushing and un-achievable expectations I heap upon you nearly everyday, in nearly every activity – academically, athletically, and socially.  To make matters worse, it seems that I never miss an opportunity to provide you with feedback that is received as either harsh, unkind, or over-critical.  This is tormenting and a classic case of me, your father, “…provoking you to anger.”  This is my failure and I am sorry.  This first gift I offer you, on this your birthday (don’t worry there will be other gifts – the kinds you unwrap), is a renewed promise to reduce the pressure I place on you and to reverse course on my hyper-critical nature so that you will always feel from me the unconditional love that I always feel from you.

Where I think we as a family have performed in accordance with the Lord, is in the second objective outlined in Ephesians 6:4 – “… bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Sam, you have proven yourself to be a dedicated, motivated, coach-able, above average athlete – there is an enormous trophy case filled with EARNED trophies (not those for participation) in football, baseball, and wrestling to prove it.  For many fathers, this would be the pinnacle of pride, but for me, the two proudest moments as your father occurred not on an athletic field but in the reflection of your heart.  In first grade, you won the school speech meet be reciting and explaining Psalm 1.  In second grade, during a parent teacher conference, your teacher told your mother and I that when asked what you wanted to be when you grow up you responded not with pro football/baseball player, fireman, policeman, doctor, lawyer or astronaut but with missionary.  It was after these two “proudest” of moments that the Lord confirmed for me you were hiding His words in your heart (Psalm 119:11) and finding your joy in the Lord (Nehemiah 8:10).  This is the central reason your mother and I decided four years ago to provide you with a Christ-centered home education.  The second gift I offer to you today is that of assistance and guidance in keeping your “Joy in the Lord.”  The enemy will try, through the many trappings of the world, to draw your focus away from eternal “Joy” and onto earthly happiness.  Please remember that this happiness is transient, but Joy from the Lord is eternal.

The final gift I offer you, on this your birthday, are words of encouragement for the future.  Words I pray you will carry with you as boyhood begins to fade into manhood and eventually into your own experience of fatherhood.   Twelve years ago today, the day you were born, as I looked down upon you lying on that heated, plastic, hospital nursery table, I saw wonderment, amazement, uncertainty, and I touched your little foot and experienced the face and presence of God.  Not only do you and I share the sacred bond of father and son, but we also share an eternal bond of birth – March 15th, 2006 is not only the day that marks your biological birth, but it also marks the day of my re-birth in Christ.  God has blessed me with the privilege of being your steward for the past twelve years and for the remaining six years of your childhood.  After that, we will be father, son, and brothers in Christ.  The best part of my journey as your father is that today I look at you with the same wonder and amazement as the day you were born, but the uncertainty has given way to excitement for what the Lord will be doing with you in the years to come.

There have been a handful of times in the recent past, when you and I have been in brief periods of strife, that your mother has apologized to me for “you not being more like me.”  I want you to know that nothing could ever be further from any desire that I may have.  I pray everyday NOT for you to be like me, but for you to be NOTHING like me – to be better than me.  And by most accounts you already are: Bold, courageous, smart, gentle in spirit, kind at heart, steadfast in manner, with love toward the all in the world much in the way that Christ loved the church – without condition.

I love you Little Buddy!  Happy Birthday!  God willing, it is going to be another great year.

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