John Maxwell’s Father’s Day Message

(The following is a transcript of John Maxwell’s Father’s Day message. The video is also available to you.)

It’s so good to be with you on Dad’s Day. Congratulations to all you fathers. And, in fact, if you’re a dad, please stand. Let’s honor ‘em. Go on dads, get up on your feet. Let’s give ‘em a hand, huh? Look at ‘em. Wow.

Well, congratulations. We’re glad you’re here. Bill, it’s a delight to be again with you. You are a beautiful friend. I have the privilege of knowing a lot of leaders, and speaking at a lot of churches, and, Willow Creek, I know you know this, but I wanna make sure that you know it... you have been blessed for many, many years to have one of the great pastor-leaders in the world in Bill Hybels. That’s a fact.

He and I are good buddies. I love to make him squirm. He’s over there just telling me to cut all that out. And what’s so wonderful is we’ve been doing this for twenty-five years, and I don’t pay attention to him at all. I just, I never have—I just enjoy my life and make him enjoy it with me, you know what I mean?

I am so glad that you’re here, and it’s just an honor. And I’m going to dedicate my teaching today to my father, who’s 95 years of age, okay? And there’s a picture. That’s my sister and myself. And my dad. Wow. I mean, don’t they look good, huh? He’s a beautiful, beautiful man. His gift is encouragement—he loves to encourage people. And people just love him. They’re drawn to him like a magnet because he just, he encourages them. And I was talking to him one day, I said, “Dad, how do you know people need encouragement?”

And he smiled and he said, “Oh, son, now,” he said, “that’s easy. If they’re breathing, they need encouragement.”

When my mother passed away, my brother—I’m the middle child—and my sister, we talked to dad, put him in a, got him to go into assisted-care living. And we just, he was still doing really well—still doing well now—but, I mean, we just wanted him to be around, you know, good medical help. So he’s got a little villa there. And so he said, “Son,” he said, “I’ve asked to be the first one to move into the assisted-care place.”

And I said, “Dad,” I said, “Why do you wanna be the first one to move in?” Cause they were just building it.

He said, “First of all, son,” he said, “You gotta understand, there’s a bunch of old people going there.”

And I said, “Yeah, okay.”

And he said, “They’re nervous. And they, many of them, this is their first time away from their family, and they’re not sure they’re gonna like this,” and he said, “I asked to be the first one there. So that when the others start moving in, I can literally meet them at the front door, and I can shake their hands and say, ‘Hi, my name is Melvin Maxwell, and I’m going to be your friend. And it’s going to be okay.’”

That’s my dad. Isn’t that beautiful? Yeah.

A few months later, he moved in, and he said, “You know, son,” he said, “I’m the chaplain now.”

I said, “Well, how’d you do that?”

Well, he said, “They didn’t have one. So I just raised my hand, right hand, made myself chaplain,” he said, “I’m the chaplain.” And, sure enough, he became the chaplain. And he got a golf cart, I mean, just drives around the facility, goes and visits everybody and loves on ‘em. And so he started to serve, he started a church there.

They have a church there, and they got a room for him, and he filled that one up with people. And so he had a second service—filled it up again. And then he said, “Well, you know, we went to a night service.” So he had three services on Sunday. And we were having lunch, and he said, “Man,” he said, “Son, we’re packed out. We’re packed out.” He said, “I’m looking into satellite right now. I’m just looking into satellite.”

At that time, he was ninety years old, and he was looking into satellite. I mean, and then, another time, I was with him, and he said, “You know what, son?” he said, “I’ve got a name for my, my church.”

I said, “That’s great, dad,” I said, “You know, I mean, okay, what’s the name of your church?”

“We’re gonna call it the First Church of the Last Chance.” Unbelievable!

In fact, today, on Father’s Day, he’s preaching. And the other, a few months ago, he felt that the chaplaincy was getting a little heavy for him, and he was literally doing seventy-five visits a week. And, Bill, that’s more active than most pastors I know. And so he finally found, we got him a replacement, turned it over to him. And now, he has a telephone ministry. And what he does is he just gives people his phone number. And he says, “If you’d like somebody to pray with ya, you know, I’ll pray for ya.” And he just keeps busy, just all day, just praying on the phone. He’s a beautiful man. So I dedicate this lesson to him. I also, I dedicate it to you. Every dad here. I dedicate this lesson to you.

As I’ve grown older—today I’m less certain about a lot of things that I was when I was young. When I was young, I was, to be honest with you, I was certain about everything. I mean, I just, I was really good back then. And, you’d ask me a question, I’d just give you an answer. I kind of was a leader, and you had an answer, and I knew where I was going, got a mountain, got a vision. Let’s get going. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just got a lot less, just a lot less things that I’m really certain about. So I wish you could’ve heard me do a Father’s Day message when I was young. Cause it would’ve really been good, you know what I’m saying? I mean, oh, before I had children, I did some of the finest child-raising sermons. Ah!

Kids’ll humble you. Won’t they? You just, you know—now, we had our first daughter, and we thought, boy... and she was just like a good girl. And it just added fuel to me as far as how to raise children.

And then we had my son.

If my son Joel would’ve been the first child, he’d have been the only child.

And so what I wanna share with you today, to be honest with you, it’s, you know, there’s a lot of trial and error. You understand what I mean? And, you know, a lot of things I did well, but a whole bunch of things, I really didn’t do well, and so I look at myself and I say, “Who can be our model?” I mean, “Who can be the model father for us to look at and say, ‘Okay, he teaches us how to do this,’” and I have good news for you today: God the Father is.

God the Father is, and He models for us what I think children need. Because there are two occasions where we hear the voice of God express about His son, Jesus. One at baptism, and one at Mount Transfiguration. And so, let’s look at the Scriptures quickly on the screen.

Baptism. “The moment that Jesus came out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up, and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: ‘This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life’” (Matthew 3:17).

And then, at Mouth Transfiguration: “Just then a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and from deep in the cloud, a voice:”—here comes the voice—“‘This is my Son, marked by my love. Listen to him’” (Mark 9:7).

You see, Jesus heard from his Father, his Heavenly Father, the words that every child needs to hear. And they were both expressed in baptism and at the Mount of Transfiguration. Here’s what Jesus heard, and here’s what others heard.

Three things. At baptism, I belong—“This is my Son.” I am loved—“Chosen and marked by my love.”

And I am special—“Delight of my life.”

And at Mount Transfiguration, I belong—again, “This is my Son.” I am loved—“Marked by my love.” And I am special—“Listen to Him.”

Now, when that happens to us, when we feel like we belong and that we’re loved unconditionally and that we are special, there’s a confidence that comes within. Both of our Father and of our self. And, at the Passover, Jesus’ last time with His... intimate time of discipleship with His guys before His death. There, He knew that He was about to be betrayed by Judas, and the Bible says that He knew His time had come. And He knew that the Father had put Him in complete power. And He knew where He came from. And He knew where He was going. And I love that passage, because you see the confidence of Jesus, the confidence that allowed Him to face difficulty—He knew that He was about to be betrayed. He was about to die on the cross. The confidence that allowed Him to serve. To put on an apron and walk around and wash the disciples’ feet. That there’s something about when we are in a right environment as a child that it allows us to have that type of confidence that we can face the difficulty, that we can stretch and we can stoop. And we know who we are. And we feel comfortable being able to do both of them.

And my father did that for me—he gave me these three things. He gave me a sense of belonging. He would line the three of us up—he did this a lot—and my dad’s kind of a fun guy, and bold, kind of boisterous voice—and he’d line the three of us up, and he’d look at us, and he’d point his finger and say, “You’re mine you’re mine you’re mine, you’re mine you’re mine you’re mine, you’re mine you’re mine you’re mine you’re mine you’re mine.” And every time he would do that, he’d kind of get us together, it was kind of like a huddle, a father huddle, and when he would do it, I could hardly wait to hear my father tell me that I was his. Because I could tell you right now, every one of us in this room, we wanna belong. We wanna know somebody loves us and cares for us and that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. And love, this love expression that he gave me... often, you’ve gotta understand, first of all, that, as a child, I was quite fun, very creative... and really had a hard time staying within the line of rules. And, you know, when we tell people to kinda get out of the box? Never was my problem—I didn’t have a box.

And there were times when I was gonna do something I knew that I would be disciplined for. And I would just sit back for a moment and say, “Is this worth it?” And, sadly, in my life, the answer, many times, was, “Yes.” And I’d say, “Oh, okay, here we go,” and so I would do it, and then I would be disciplined.

But before they would discipline me, both my dad and my mom, they would look at me and, very tenderly, let me know how much they loved me. Of course, as a kid, I would say, “If you love me, give me a pass,” you know what I mean? You know, let me go.

And then they’d say, “No. We love you too much to do that. We love you so much, we’re going to discipline you.” And they would. And then they would come back and, you know, fifteen minutes after that discipline, they would just let me know that they loved me again. They wanted to make sure that that discipline was sandwiched with continual love. And I was surrounded by that. And I’m very grateful for that. And I grew up believing that I was special. I grew up believing that. And understanding and sensing that.

In fact, when all three of us, when we got into the seventh grade, my father would put us on a reading program. And he basically gave us allowance to read books. And he would buy the books and put them in our hands—books that he thought would help us to really grow and develop ourselves. And all my friends, they got an allowance for doing chores. I didn’t get an allowance for doing chores. I went to my dad, and I said, “Dad, you know, all my friends get allowance for doing chores; I don’t get allowance for doing chores. Boy, I kinda think that’s a good idea, don’t you?”

He says, “Terrible idea.” He says, “I don’t pay you to be part of a family.” He said, “You gotta understand, we help each other out here. We don’t get any pay. In fact,” he said, “If you don’t understand that, let me explain it this way: by the time you were, by the time you were born, you already owed your mother for nine months of room and board. So shut up and take out the garbage!” You know what I’m saying? And then he would say, “And, by the way, let me just explain it to you this way: I put my money where my values are. I’m not gonna pay you to take out the garbage—I don’t want you to grow up to be the garbage man. I’m gonna pay you to read good books.” And that’s exactly what he did. And he basically said, “I’m investing in you. I wanna pour into you. I wanna do that”—and, by the way, I did that for my children. I now do that for my grandchildren. It’s an amazing process. In fact, I think, if my brother and my sister were here, and you would ask them what the most life-changing thing, they would say, “From the seventh grade on, every day, for thirty minutes, we read good books. And books that just helped form me. And it was a way of dad saying to me, again, ‘I believe in you. I think you’re very special.’”

So, as a child, I was fortunate to have wonderful parents. Some people are, some people aren’t. It’s nothing that the child chooses. I just happened to be lucky enough to win the parent lottery. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. But if you didn’t, I want you to hear this very clearly: my father, who was such a good father, didn’t win the parent lottery himself. He lost his mother when he was six years of age. And I can tell you, I’ve watched him, throughout his life, it’s a hole in his heart. Losing a mother and not having a mother as he grew up. And he willed, he determined, as a dad, that even though he didn’t get everything that he needed as a child, that he was gonna do his best to supply to us as his children everything that he felt that we needed. And I say that to every one of you today because some of us kinda won the lottery, some of us didn’t win the lottery. And some of us, as parents, we’ve done well. Some of us, as parents, some of us would like to have a do over. Some of our children would like us to have a do over.

And I love the poem that says, “Though you cannot go back and make a brand new start, my friend, anyone can start from now and make a brand new end.” And that “anyone” is every one of us here at Willow. Every one of us. I don’t know where we are, but I know where we can go, and we can make a choice, and we can make a choice that, maybe I didn’t get what I wanted, but I’m gonna provide that for my children, or I’m gonna make the change. And we can start from now. And that’s what this lesson’s all about—this lesson’s all about the value of a father. And the father of making choices and doing things that will allow you to grow and be a better day.

And every one of us today can do this. It’s within our reach.

And I’m gonna talk now, just for a couple minutes, about my parenting and I gotta do, start off by giving what I would call a parenting disclaimer. Okay, you just have to understand I’m gonna tell you maybe about one or two good things. But you have to trust me that it’s because I’ve got just a few minutes to talk. If I was gonna tell you about all my mess ups, it would be a series. Like a summer series. Through 2022.

In fact, you talk about stupid. Let me define stupid for you. Stupid is a person who has two teenagers—one sixteen and one thirteen—and writes a book called Breakthrough Parenting. That’s stupid. And you’re looking at him. That’s exactly what I did. I mean, I got teenagers, I’m gonna write a book on breakthrough parenting. And so I’m writing these wonderful things that give you breakthroughs as a parent, and I’m looking at reality, at my teenage kids, I call the publisher and say, “We gotta change the title. There’s no, I’m looking around, and, trust me, there are no breakthroughs. I’m looking for ‘em, I’m praying for ‘em, but there are no breakthroughs. But could we change the title? How about Break-up parenting? Martin and I are about to divorce on a couple of issues right now, and if Break-up parenting doesn’t fit you, how about Breakdown parenting? Breakdown parenting would work. And if that doesn’t work, if my kids don’t straighten up, how about Break your bones parenting? Somewhere in there, I fit...

I got something I gotta read to ya. In fact, it’s so good, I laminated it. Now, let me explain something to you. When something’s good, I laminate it. This is laminated. If I would’ve been Moses going up on Mount Sinai...

I may take you on the road with me. You’re really good, you’re really good.

If I was Moses going up Mount Sinai, I would’ve laminated the Ten Commandments. That’s what I think of lamination. I certainly wouldn’t have put them on stone—those babies break. I love this—Mark Twain said that he spent a large sum of money to trace his family tree and then spent twice as much trying to keep his ancestry secret. He was like the family that reportedly wanted its history written up, so they hired a professional biographer to do it, but they were worried about how the document would handle the family’s black sheep—uncle George. Uncle George had been executed in the electric chair for murder. “No problem,” said the biographer. “I’ll say that uncle George occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution, and he was attached to his position by the strongest of ties, and his death came as a real shock.”

How many of you need somebody like him in your family, huh? You know what I mean? Because we all have our uncle Georges. And what’s sad is, sometimes, we’re uncle George. So when I talk to you about my kids and family for a moment, you just have to kind of understand that, I’m just gonna give you a couple of things that I tried as a dad to do well, and I tried to give my kids a sense of belonging. And it was important because our children were adopted.

Margaret and I made a decision. Got married in 1969. Back then, abortion was a huge issue—we just made a decision. We were kids, and we said, “How do we handle, what do we do to, how do we make our stand?” And we thought we would do that by adopting our family, and so we made that decision. But one of the things about an adopted child is they’re not wanted, or they were given up. And we didn’t want that be with our children and our daughter, Elizabeth, she was an abandoned child. And so it took us a year to get her, and when the court systems and all kind of legal stuff and, as a potential father, I thought, I’ve got to let her know how much I want her to belong. I remember, after a year, about a year, of us seeing her for the first time, and I looked at her, and immediately, I just, loved her, and I thought, Oh, God, help me. Help me to, as a dad, to let this little girl know that I chose her. And that she’s special. And that she belongs. And, in fact, I called her, I gave her a nickname because I wanted her to know how special she was. I told her, she grew up, I said, “Sissy, you’re the apple of my eye. You’re the apple of my eye.”

And Margaret, she put together this wonderful piece when we adopted Elizabeth and Joel, because we were pastoring, we put it in the bulletin when we got both of them, and it was special adoptions, or adoptions that are very special to us. We had Moses who was, of course, adopted by pharaoh’s daughter. Esther, who’s adopted by uncle Mordecai. And Jesus who was adopted by Joseph. And the body of Christ, we’re adopted into the family of God. And then, you know, Sarah Elizabeth Maxwell, adopted by us. And Joel, adopted by us.

And I watch them now, as parents, and they’re really good parents. They’re better parents than I was. And I’m so proud of them. Just to let someone know that you love them and they belong to you and that they’re special, and looking for ways to do that, or creative ways to do that, my son, Joel, is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful dad. But Bill knows—cause Bill and I traveled a lot together when our kids were smaller—and, man, I tell you, it was a hard... wow. If you ever get, kind of, looking at your child, and saying, “Are they gonna be okay?” Just trust me, God can do a miracle in their life. Because, with Joel, we needed a miracle for this one.

I remember hearing Ed Young talk about how the, how he always went to his son’s basketball’s games. And, in his son’s last year, toward the end of the season, he was invited by the president of the White House to have dinner with him. So he sat down with his son, and both of ‘em just said, “Oh, yeah, you don’t wanna miss that.” And so, he was gonna miss his son’s basketball game, went to the airport, just about ready to get on the plane, and he got to thinking about, this would be the only game I missed. And he started kind of weighing, you know, the president in the White House and my boy at a basketball game. And, all of a sudden, he just left the airport and got in a car and he went to his boy’s game. And I heard that, and I was greatly touched and convicted, because I didn’t think I was that kind of a dad, that good of dad. I thought, ugh, I think I’d have gone to the White House.

And, for a couple or three months, that weighed on me. Cause I thought, man, I don’t think I would’ve done that. I don’t think I’d have been that good.

It was during the time on Promise Keepers. And, again, Bill and I spoke for Promise Keepers all over the country—did it together and had some great times. And one of the rules in Promise Keepers, if you’re gonna do an event at a stadium, you had to go to a meeting with the other speakers to kind of plan the agenda, the whole deal. And we’re getting ready for the big million-man event in Washington D.C., and I was invited to be one of the speakers—I’ve, you know, never spoken to a million men in the mall in Washington D.C., and it was kind of like a big thing. So I flew to Denver for the pre-meeting with the other speakers. And I landed there and called Margaret, and she said, “You know,” she said, “Joel’s not doing very well,” and, his first kind of love, his girlfriend had broken up with him. She said, “He’s just not doing very well.”

And, immediately, I knew what I wanted to do. I said, “I’m coming home.”

She said, “No, no, you can’t come home. You gotta go to the speaker’s meeting, cause if you don’t go to the speaker’s meeting, you can’t speak in Washington, and so.” She said, “I just told you that. Pray. Go. Go to the meeting. He’ll be okay. I’ll watch him. He’s okay.”

I said, “No. I want to come home.”

And I can still remember, I wanted to go home. So I called coach Max, said, “Coach, I’m not coming to the speaker’s meeting.” Told him what happened, and I said, “I know that disqualifies me to go to D.C. and speak. It’s okay.” Jumped on the plane, went back home, and spent two days with my son. Just two days. We, we just hung out. Two days that, I wasn’t going to be there, and I had it for him. And then, that second day, we just had maybe a five-minute intimate talk during day where he knew, he said, “Dad, I-I’ll never forget what you did. You came back for me.”

Well, a couple weeks later, I got a call from coach Max, and he said, “John, I got good news. Can I meet you in Atlanta?” I came to Atlanta, we had lunch, he said, “I told the other speakers you, you know, you weren’t coming to the meeting cause you needed to go home and be with your boy.” And he said, “Max Lucado stood up, he said, ‘Look,’ he said, ‘let’s stop penalizing for that.’ He said, ‘Every one of us probably ought to be with their families.’ And so,” he said, “they unanimously voted, John, for you to go to Washington D.C. and be one of the speakers. And you missed the meeting, but they unanimously said you could go ahead and speak to the million men.”

And he was so happy as he—I can still see him just leaning over—so happy to give me this good news. And I looked at him, and I said, “I can’t accept.”

He said, “Well, why not?” He said, “They want you to do that.”

I said, “I would cheapen the price that I paid for my boy if I—no, I don’t wanna do it. You go. I’ll go with my boy. I’ll go stand in the mall with a million other people.” And I did that with Joel and my son-in-law, Steve, and, had one of the greatest worship times in my life with the two boys.

Now, I say that because it can... there were a lot of misses I had as a father, so I tell that story, and then I feel bad because you’re thinking right now I’m better than I am. And I’m not that good, okay? So I don’t know how good you think I am, but bring it down, would you? Just bring it down, you know? Cause I don’t want that. What I want you to see today is it’s within your reach to make some decisions as a father—choices in your life that can, in a beautiful way, affect some wonderful things with your children. And it’s within your reach. So I got one more thing to say, and then I’m gonna be done.

So, just, kind of break this up for me, would you please? I’m getting way too mushy and I need to get bailed out. So just look at your... look at your... yeah, bail me out. Thank you, that, yeah. That bails me out. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, that was good.

I was just gonna have you look at your neighbor and say, “You can do that, too.” But the clapping did it. So thank you very much. Okay, now. We’re back to reality, okay? Okay.

Perhaps you missed it as a child, and you didn’t receive a sense of belonging, love, and specialness from your parents. Or perhaps, as a parent, you’ve missed it with your children. Or maybe you’ve got grandchildren you can kind of make it up there, I don’t know. But here’s what I want you to know. If you missed it on either end, the giving or receiving side, I just want you to take now a couple of minutes with me and understand that God, the Father, our Heavenly Father, He looks at you and He looks at me, and He gives us, in His incredible, never-miss way, a sense of belonging, a sense of love, and a sense that we’re special.

So I’m just gonna throw up a couple verses on the screen for you to see. This one is God the Father and the sense of belonging: “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God!”

Would you just say, out loud, right now, “I am a child of God.” It’s beautiful, isn’t it? You’re a child of God. Just think of it—just think about this for a moment. God creator, God creator says to you and me, “You belong to me. You’re mine. You’re mine you’re mine you’re mine you’re mine. You belong to me. Created you in my own image. Gifted you.”

Look at the security of love that the Father gives us. This is Paul speaking. He asks that we’ll be strengthened by His Spirit and that Christ will live in us and we’ll open the door and invite Him in. And then he says, “And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all the followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.” And look at these extravagant dimensions: “Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb its depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”

I love that Scripture. And what’s so beautiful is he says, “We can, it’s within our reach to find His love.” Because he told us to test it. Plumb. In other words, he said, “This are things that you can do to really experience the love of God.” But when he talks about the breadth of God’s love, what that means is it’s for everyone. Everyone. God so loved the world. For everyone.

So say out loud, “God loves me.” Go ahead and say that. Yeah, look at your neighbor and say, “God loves you.” Yeah. Guys, that’s beautiful. Hey, let’s just, let it out. God loves everyone! Isn’t that powerful? That’s the breadth of love! God loves everyone. Even people I don’t like.

Yeah. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it? It’s a beautiful thing. And then—we’re special to Him. You see, when we have a sense of belonging and we feel the security of love, it gives us a sense of specialness, and here’s what Paul talked about in the sense of belonging and the special, he said, “How blessed is God! And what a blessing He is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in Him.” Now, I love this phrase: “Long before”—long before—“he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.” Long, long ago, He decided to adopt us into His family through Jesus Christ. What pleasure He took in planning this.


God the Father says to you today—every one of us: “You belong to me. I love you unconditionally. And you’re special.” Let me put it this way: if God had a refrigerator... He’d put your picture on