May 13, 2012

Courageous Fathers

This morning we are going to take a break from our look at how to handle God’s stuff.  We’re going to do this because I happen to think moms are special enough they deserve their own Sunday.  Instead of focusing directly on moms, though, this morning I’m going to direct my comments towards one of the ingredients absolutely essential to successful moms.  I’m going to focus this morning on one of the things that will go further in helping moms achieve their God-designed ends than just about anything else in life: dads.  This is not to say that dads are more important than moms.  Rather, moms weren’t made to work without dads.  They can.  And they do.  Often with great success.  But that’s not the ideal and the current state of our culture is a gleaming affirmation of this truth.  God has given moms the strength to raise and care for children on their own, but a good dad does more to help and enliven the life of a mom than anything else in the world.  Therefore, what better gift could a mom be given than a dad who is fully what God designed him to be?  This is the goal of this morning.  Furthermore, for some of you, the words I use to call dads to be their fullest God-selves may sound familiar.  Indeed, I’ve preached this sermon before.  But, when I did, as it happened, there hasn’t been a Sunday with fewer dads here that I remember in nearly four years of being with you.  As a result, God has really laid these words on my heart to share once again.  As I prayed through when would be the best time to share them, it dawned on me: Mother’s Day.  After all, around here, Mother’s Day is nearly as important a Sunday as Easter.  In fact, a couple of years ago we had a bigger crowd on Mother’s Day than we did on Easter.  All that is to say, this day made perfect sense as a day to share these words again.

As we get into it, then, let’s think for a minute about how important and how rare godly men are in our current culture.  Part of the reason for this is that we have a culture that no longer celebrates, or frankly expects, males to make the journey from boyhood to manhood.  Consider two of the most popular pieces of trash…I mean sitcoms, on television right now: Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother.  From what I can tell, these shows are about boys in man-suits living out every worldly fantasy ever conceived by a male mind.  Now, admittedly, I’ve never watched a full episode of either show, but if their commercials are even remotely indicative of their content I’m not going to.  Young boys and grown men watch this kind of filth and think the behavior portrayed is normative, healthy, or desirable.  How are boys supposed to grow to manhood when so many of their models are simply other boys running around in man-suits?  You know what I’m talking about here: males who have facial hair, jobs, drive cars, maybe even a wife and kids—all the things by which our culture defines manhood—but who are really just little boys at heart.  You see, the problem is that this transition from boyhood to manhood is not something that happens naturally.  Boys would be content to have recess and time to play with toys for the rest of their lives.  The nature of their toys changes, but not the desire.  As a result, there are a whole lot of boys running around in man-suits out there because nobody ever bothered to show them how to grow into their clothes.  And pity the woman who gets tangled up with one of these boys masquerading as a man.  The boyishness is cute, but it doesn’t meet any spiritual or emotional or relational needs.  Instead of Christ-like men who are committed to advancing the cause of the kingdom, our culture calls men to a life of self-fulfillment as the highest goal.  There is nothing God-honoring about any of this.  My friends, godly men are only going to be produced by the leading of godly men.  What I would like to take a look at with you this morning is what a real man of God looks like and the impact such a man can have on the world around him.

In order to do this, we are going to examine a couple of statements that Paul made in his letter to the church in Ephesus.  If you have your Bibles, open them to Ephesians 5:22.  As we seek to define the shape of a godly man along with his impact, we are going to focus our attention on the first and most important sphere of his influence: the family.  If we are going to be men pursuing the heart of God, what does this look like in our relationship with our wife and with our children?  Let’s start with the husband-wife relationship and then we’ll spend some time on the kind of impact godly men can have on their kids.

In Ephesians 5:22 Paul drops the culturally toxic bomb that wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord.  We’re not going to talk about that today.  The reason Paul gives for this command in v. 23, however, is of interest: “For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church…”  Many people read this and have a strongly negative reaction.  The reason for this is that our culture has packed into our heads the idea that language like this is evil and offensive and should be avoided at all costs.  And yet, here is it in the Bible.  That means we have to figure out something to do with it.  Well, let me offer some thoughts.  In any relationship in which two people have committed themselves to heading in the same direction together, there must be a leader.  We can claim that we’re going to share everything 50-50, but the reality of the life is that’s not going to happen.  At some point one partner is going to get his or her way at the expense of the other.  When that happens, 50-50 has left the building and someone is leading.  But, this isn’t necessarily as bad a thing as our culture would have us think.  Yes, a leader sometimes gets his way, but perhaps equally as often a good leader is the first one to admit that going in a direction other than he would prefer is best to keep things on course.  It takes a real man to admit as much.

In any event, in the marriage relationship, the Bible seems to suggest that it is the husband who is vested with the authority of leadership.  Now, again, our often anti-male culture stops after the ninth word in v. 23 and  screams and wails that this is all blind hatred of women, but not so fast.  Keep reading.  What’s the pattern for the husband’s leadership?  The husband is the head of the wife just as, or in the same way, or after the manner of, Christ’s headship over the church.  In this way, when things are as they should be, a wife’s submission to her husband is a gleaming reflection of the church’s submission to Christ with all the attendant benefits and blessings.  Let that one sit on you for a minute.  Think of all the ways Jesus has taken care of His church in history.  That should be the manner in which husbands take care of their wives.  Nothing less meets with God’s standards.  That kind of a husband is worthy of submission.  Now, husbands could (and if history is any witness certainly have) take this gift and abuse it horribly.  But Paul doesn’t leave anything to chance.  In v. 25 he turns his attention on the husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  Now, what does this mean?  Well, we’ve talked before about what love is.  Biblically speaking, love is an intentional decision to see someone else become fully who God designed them to be.   Jesus certainly models this for us.  So then, what does it take to see someone become fully who God designed them to be?

Perhaps first and foremost, it takes a level of service that goes beyond what most of us probably understand.  Again, look at Jesus.  Jesus was explicitly clear that He didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give His life away.  So husbands, if we are going to pursue the call to godliness in our God-given roles, what might this look like?  How can we be intentionally committed to seeing our wives become fully who God designed them to be?  If we are going to be following Jesus’ example, then we had better be taking the lead in serving them instead of the other way around.  You see, somewhere along the line of history Paul’s command for wives to be submitted to their husbands was interpreted primarily in terms of service.  But that’s not what he said.  And if we are going to take his words seriously, it is the husband who should be the most active in serving his wife.  But what does this look like?  Well, it certainly is found in going to work in order to support the family financially.  But is that sacrifice of time by itself going to help our wives become fully who God designed them to be?  Yeah, I don’t think so either.  So what else is there?

Well, it is ultimately only the Spirit who will help them become their God-designed selves so men what are you doing to involve the Spirit of God in her life?  Are you praying for her?  That should be a given.  Are you praying with her?  That should too.  How about helping to create space for her to have some alone time with God?  Here’s service men: you come home after working all day.  Your wife either comes home as well or is already home but either way she is as tired and stressed out as you are.  And instead of waiting for her to fix a meal or deal with the kids so you can rest, you take on either or both of those things so that she can.  Now men, you have to take the initiative here.  Wives are going to default to doing that kind of thing for you because that’s how God designed them.  Women more naturally default to service like this than men do.  I’m saying: let’s think about how we can return the favor.

Let’s think in a slightly different direction.  God designed your wife uniquely to serve Him.  Have you shown genuine interest in who God designed her to be?  Have you ever had a conversation with your wife about the gifts God has given her to fill this great role?  What are you doing (with intentionality) to help her develop and apply these gifts in the place God has created her to use them?  Making assumptions here won’t do.  This takes real intention and focus.  And if you have spent many years ignoring her gifts, it’s going to take some time to build up the trust on her part that you really are interested.  One more thing and then we’ll move forward.  All people, including your wife, are made to worship.  What are you doing to facilitate her ability to worship God in spirit and in truth?  Has your wife ever sacrificed time in worship in order to serve you and the family?  Have you ever returned the favor?

Men, we are called to be the leader in our families.  And what does being a leader mean?  Jesus defined that pretty well for us in a couple of different places.  In one He specifically cited the world’s standard model of leadership, an exercise of power, in order to tell the disciples to reject that model entirely.  Leadership has little to do with power.  In the other place He showed us what it should be like instead: serving those around us.  Being a leader means actively serving those around us and developing them to their fullest potential.  That’s a huge part of what leadership is. What are you willing to sacrifice in order that you can do this for your wife?  Let me give two really practical examples.  Take some Saturday and skip an entire day of sports in order to watch the kids or clean the house or run the errands or whatever so she can have some time to grow and develop her gifts without worrying about those things.  (And though that might be easy now that there aren’t quite as many sporting events on Saturdays, try it in the fall when college football is in full swing.)  In fact, don’t even record the games, because then you really aren’t sacrificing anything to serve her and thus it doesn’t mean as much.  Here’s the second: Give up six months of your favorite pastime and spend all of that time intentionally building her up and investing in your marriage so she might be a gleaming reflection of her heavenly Father.  Jesus stepped down out of heaven in order to demonstrate His love for the church.  Let’s step out of our comfort zones to do the same for our wives.

As men, however, our spouses are not our only duty.  After Paul spends time outlining what godly husbands look like, he turns his attention to the relationship between fathers and their children.  Now, certainly not all couples have children, but every man has the opportunity to impact the faith of a young person.  In fact, if your kids are grown or you don’t have kids then your call is to find a young person you can pour into to see him or her develop into a godly reflection of Jesus.  Anyway, look at what Paul says there in 6:4: “…fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  There are two parts to this.  First, as fathers, we must not provoke our children to anger.  What makes you angry?  I don’t know about you, but as a man, when someone assesses my value as less than I consider it to be, I get angry.  Now, I get angry when I don’t get my own way or when I see injustice in the world around me or any number of other external things, but when I feel my value is being assessed lower than it actually is, I get really angry.  Anyone else with me?  Do you think your kids are any different?  Fathers, as far as your kids are concerned, you are the primary assessor of their value.  There’s no one in this world whose opinion matters more than yours.  Now, the reality is that God is the primary assessor of their value, but unless they are confident of your assessment, they are much less likely to look to His.  Even if they are teenagers and look hard to their friends’ opinions, your voice is still the loudest in their ears.  This means that if you don’t build your kids up and give them the confidence that their value is what they know deep in their heart it should be, they are going to be angry.  This anger will play itself out in a way totally unique to your child, but it will come out.  There are a lot of adults in this world who didn’t have their value properly esteemed by their father who are still plagued by the anger of this failing.  It doesn’t go away quickly or easily.  So here’s what you do: build your kids up.  Tell your kids you love them and are proud of them at least seven times a day.  Keep a tally if you have to.  Don’t ever let a day end in which you have criticized them more than you have built them up.  And be specific.  Generic praise is always welcomed, but give them something on which they can stake their identity.  “My dad is proud of me because…”  Make sure it’s something worth staking their identity on.  As fathers, when we build up our kids in this way we give them an unshakeable confidence in their God-given identity that will serve them well when they enter the identity grinding mill that is school.

Here’s the other thing you do: involve yourself in their lives.  Don’t limit your involvement to discipline issues mom doesn’t want to handle and sports.  Please don’t draw yourself away like that.  Way too many fathers stop there and think they are sitting on top of the world because they can spank their kid and coach their ball team.  Meanwhile their kids are screaming for more.  Dads, get involved in the nitty-gritty.  It’s hard.  It’s inconvenient.  It’s messy.  It’s frustrating beyond what you’ll think you can handle.  But it’s worth it.  Help them with their homework.  Fix them dinner.  Make sure they brush their teeth.  Read to them before bed.  Pray with them every day.  Play with them every day.  Watch them when your wife can’t and don’t ever hand them off to a grandparent because you have things you’d rather be doing.  Unless your work demands otherwise, take an afternoon off once a month just to hang out with them.  Go eat lunch with them at school.  Take them to work with you once a year.  Take them to breakfast on Saturday mornings.  Make breakfast for your wife with them.  Make dinner for your wife with them.  Teach them how to call you at work and always take their calls every time no matter how busy you are.  Show them in a thousand ways that you are committed to seeing them become fully who God designed them to be…that you love them.  Show your boys how to be men and your girls the kind of behavior they should expect from men.  Take the lead in all of this.  If you are going to be the leader of your family, do it.  And, “I’m just delegating,” or “I’m too busy,” are pitiful excuses for a lack of involvement.  Make the sacrifice.  Christ did for you.

The other part here is bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  As fathers, you are the spiritual leaders of your families.  That’s the picture commended to us in Scripture.  This means that you are most singularly responsible for passing on the faith to your children.  Not your wife.  When we stand before the judgment throne of God He’s going to look at the state of the faith of our children and if it’s not where it should be, He’s going to look to us for an explanation as to why.  We may have done everything we possibly could to pass it on, but if not, we’re going to answer for it.  So then, pass your faith on to your children.  Send them the message that your faith is important in your life.  Teach them that being involved in a Christian community matters enough to actually be involved.  Prove to them that involvement means more than simply showing up most Sunday mornings at 11:00.  Show them that actively seeking to grow in your faith is essential to a joy-filled life.  Demonstrate how to pray.  Impress upon them the fact that pursuing the kingdom of God is more important than anything else in this world.  And when there is a conflict between that and anything else—sports, school, or social life—always make sure that pursuing the kingdom wins.

Do you know how those things are taught?  When they see you doing them.  Dads, here’s the hard truth: your kids will be as devoted to the Christian faith as they see you are.  If you send the message that the whole church thing is fairly important, but comes second to a variety of other things they are going to receive that message clearly.  Don’t ever, ever, ever send your kids to church.  Go with them.  The message that sends is that church is important for them to develop some generic religious, cultural, social foundations to get by in life, but isn’t so important that it should be an active part of your life as an adult.  In a world that tells them twelve times a day none of it is important, if they pick up anything less than primary importance from you (which means your actions have to match your words) they are going to listen to their world.  And come on: one of the more popular ideas in our increasingly individualized culture is that we don’t really need to go to church to grow spiritually.  Our faith can be a private thing.  Let me see if I can respond to this delicately: that’s one of the biggest crocks of garbage floating around today.   You should have a personal, private relationship with God, but if that doesn’t play itself out in your life in very much public ways, then there’s a good chance you don’t really have a very good relationship with God.  There’s nothing in the Bible to suggest that faith in God is a private affair.  And no, you won’t grow spiritually apart from active and engaged fellowship with a body of believers.  A faith that is solely private isn’t worth spit.  And so, if you want your kids to grow up with a deep faith in God, you’d better have one.  If you want your kids in Sunday school or Bible study, you had better be in it.  If, as a good Baptist, you want them baptized by full immersion, you had better be sure you have.  If you think it is at all important for them to be able to explain what they believe to someone else, explain what you believe to them.  And if you don’t understand fully what you believe, if you can’t express your personal statement of faith, humble yourself to learn alongside them.  Or how about worship.  Have you ever had a conversation with your kids about the necessity and importance of gathering as a body of Christ-followers and worshiping God?  Have you taught them that God is worthy of worship?  Have you ever explained to them why we sing songs and hear a sermon and give an offering?  They won’t ever learn those kinds of things on their own.  Oh they will learn to go through the motions, but without understanding the whys behind the motions all they are learning is religion.  Our job is to teach them faith, not religion.  Our job is to call them to be completely sold out in love of Jesus and radically committed to advancing His kingdom, not to preserving our church as we have always known it.  In fact, if all we hand off to our children is an emotionally, fiscally, physically sound church and not a devotion to Christ that goes well beyond anything that makes any sense in the eyes of the world, we have failed.

This is leadership men.  Leadership doesn’t mean sitting back and surveying your kingdom.  It means you are out front, casting the vision for where your family is going, showing them how to walk the path that will get them there, helping to make sure they are equipped with the tools necessary to succeed, and working with great intentionality to see those you are leading become fully who God designed them to be.  Leadership isn’t about power.  It’s about service.  It isn’t about getting your way all the time.  It’s about sacrificing yourself—your comfort, your convenience, your hopes, your plans, your dreams—constantly in a pursuit of the kingdom which takes shape as you help them reach it.  According to Paul’s words, men, you are the spiritual leaders of your families.  Not your wife.  Not her parents.  Not your parents.  Not your grandparents.  Not her grandparents.  You.  Now, any good leader knows there are certain tasks that can and should be delegated to someone else because they take time away from the things that only the leader can do.  This isn’t one of those tasks.  You can’t pass this off to someone else.  It won’t happen as it should if you don’t do it.  Let me get really personal and then I’m done.  Men of Central Baptist Church: do you realize there are two women’s ministry groups in this church which are involved in projects that are local, national, and international and not a single, organized men’s ministry team?  Men, it’s time to stand up.  Let us together stand up as leaders in our families.  As leaders in our church.  Let our leadership be more than making money and paying bills.  Let us be the primary vision casters and champions.  Let us cast with clarity (and a whole lot of advice from our diligently faithful women) the vision for how God is using this church.  Let us call with urgency the people forward to realize this vision.  Let us lead.  Because godly men lead their families to godly ends.  Godly men lead their families to godly ends.  Godly men lead their families to godly ends.  Will you lead, men?