I got an email last night from someone who’s here, saying that his wife was wondering if I was going to give all the men a whooping today for Father’s Day. In a manner of speaking, I suppose I am. I want to talk to the men today. I’ve been wanting to do so for years, but this is the first chance I’ve had.
I want to talk about the models that we’ve used of what it means to be good men and fathers. There are lots to choose from. For instance, one could choose Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart. Some of us would like to be like him. Some of us may even think we are like him.
Then there’s Homer Simpson. I thought of him because I’ve been reading about this contest for Father’s Day called, “Is your father like Homer Simpson?” I’ve been nervous that my family might have entered me in that contest. I came across this diagram outlining the evolution – I guess you could say devolution – of fathers over the past few years on TV. It went from Ward Cleaver to Archie Bunker to Homer Simpson to Ozzie Osbourne. You have to wonder who’s next.
I want to clear something up right away. It comes from something Homer Simpson once said: “I won’t lie to you, fatherhood isn’t easy like motherhood.” Obviously, Homer didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. If you want to talk equality of the sexes, I hate to admit it, but the women have us beat in every area except for one. We lose in the categories of life expectancy, rates of incarceration and mental illness. We win in upper body strength. Michael Moore has a theory on why women are better than men:
Perhaps there’s no logical explanation for this disparity. Maybe, as the nuns taught us, it’s just all part of God’s plan. But if that’s the case, why did God make women so much better? The nuns must have had the inside dope on this, after all, they were all women themselves. They knew God’s secret, and they certainly weren’t going to share it with the likes of me.
It is my belief, and this is purely form my personal observation of the women I live with (wife and daughter), that when God was creating the world, he spent the better part of Day Six creating what women would look like. I mean, you can’t help but notice the skillful craft of an artisan at the top of His field. The shapes, the curves, the symmetry, all constitute extraordinary art. Their skin is soft and smooth and perfect, their hair is rich and think and vibrant. I am not speaking form a prurient perspective here, these are simply the conclusions of the art critic in me. Woman, I think we all agree, are stunningly beautiful.
So what happened to God when it came to us? It’s like He used up all His best tricks inventing women. By the time he got to us, he was obviously ready to get it over with and move on to something more important, like that seventh day of rest.
So men ended up like Chevys, rushed off the assembly line and guaranteed to break down after limited use. That’s why we try to stay in our recliners as long as we can, the exertion required to pick up after ourselves can lead to an early coronary. Our bodies were built to lift, carry, haul and throw, but for a limited time only. (Stupid White Men)
So this is where we find ourselves: different from women, gloriously different. The gender differences between us are vast, but both reflect the image of God. We find ourselves without easy models for what it means to be men. And in the church, it sometimes doesn’t get better. Maybe because a lot of pastors are bookish, we expect that being a follower of Christ means that we’ll become just really nice people, like Mr. Rogers if not nicer. That’s not a very attractive model for us either.
But I want to probe a bit deeper, because I’m not sure that nice is the goal for those of us who want to be Christian men. John Eldredge says in Wild at Heart that it’s hard to see niceness as a byproduct of following God. Kindness, sure, but not niceness. You don’t get crucified for being nice. You read of the men of the Bible – David, Daniel, Paul, Jesus – and you don’t find guys like Mr. Rogers. You find guys who take on giants, stand up to kings. You find God in the flesh turning tables over in the Temple, and staring the religious leaders of the day in the face and telling them they’re hypocrites. Jesus also cried and had close friendships. In him, we find the model for manhood, and it involves more than niceness.
Today, I want to zero in on the character of a man. The reality is that we don’t get to control what happens within our lives, as this clip from City Slickers will show. The dad, Mitch, gives these reflections on life to his son’s classroom:
Value this time in your life, kids. ‘Cause this is the time in your life when you still have your choices. And it goes by so fast. When you’re a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Thirties…you raise your family, you make a little money, and you think to yourself, “What happened to my twenties?” Forties? You grow a little potbelly…you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud…one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Fifties, you have a minor surgery. You’ll call it a “procedure,” but it’s a surgery. Sixties…you’ll have a major surgery, the music is still loud but it doesn’t matter because you can’t hear it anyway. The seventies, you and your wife retire to Fort Lauderdale. You start eating dinner at two o’clock in the afternoon…you have lunch around ten…breakfast the night before. You spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate soft yogurt and muttering, “How come the kids don’t call? How come the kids don’t call?” The eighties, you’ll have a major stroke. You end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can’t stand, but who you’ll call “Mama.” Any questions?
We don’t really have a lot of choices about our life stages. There’s a lot in our lives that we don’t control. We can control one thing: what happens in our hearts; what type of people we become. We can control our passion and our character.
There’s incredible freedom when one has courage and character, even in circumstances beyond our control. Last year, I was walking the streets of Oxford, England. As I walked the cobblestones of Broad Street, I came across this scene: a cross of twenty-four white stones in the middle of the road. Bicycles and cars whizzed by. That cross marks the spot where, in October 1555, two men were burned at the stake because they refused to recant their faith in Jesus Christ. As they were led from Bocardo Prison, one of the prisoners, Hugh Latimer, said to the other, Nicholas Ridley, “Be of good cheer, Ridley. Play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out.”
Play the man. Even in the worst circumstances of life, play the man.
I’d like to look at Titus 2:2 today, because it describes six qualities that we should aim to develop in our lives. Paul gives us these positive qualities, but he also gives us the qualities that are our defaults, our natural leanings. Titus 1:12-13 says, “One of their own men, a prophet from Crete, has said about them, ‘The people of Crete are all liars; they are cruel animals and lazy gluttons.’ This is true.” I always find this pretty humorous, maybe a little harsh, but not without truth. We all are capable of becoming dishonest, cruel, lazy, and gluttonous. You could even say this is where we’d all drift if we let ourselves.
In Titus 2:2, Paul gives six qualities that we men should set as our goals. Paul says, “Teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have strong faith and be filled with love and patience.” Verse 6 says, ” In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely in all they do.” Paul mentions six qualities. I’d like to present them to you as a diagnostic today. You can go along and evaluate, and then we’ll finish off with some action steps at the end.
I know what you’re thinking: this one refers to no drinking. Well, not really. It definitely refers to alcohol, but it has a wider meaning. It’s about avoiding the extremes, being clear-headed, and maintaining self-control in all circumstances.
This is going to be different for all of us. There’s probably at least one area of our life where it’s easy to get out of control. I know enough of you that I can name some of the areas. With some of us, it’s toys. We’ve got money, and we love to buy toys – whatever it is, cars, stereos, technology, drums. I’ve heard all of them.
With some of us, it’s anger. We fly off the handle and say things we later regret. We may even make excuses for it – it’s our nationality, they had it coming, and so on. I’ve heard them all. But if we’re completely honest, it’s a character issue that we haven’t been able to control.
There’s also the stuff we eat and drink – too much or the wrong stuff. Then there’s the sexual area. A lot of us struggle in this area, and have come to realize that there’s no easy answers. Without being crude, I think it’s significant that the sign of circumcision, of being separated to the Lord, was done in this area.
I’m not sure which of these areas is the area for you, but we all have at least one area. The goal, Paul says, is to develop self-control in this area. The way to do so isn’t to focus harder on this area of your life, which is what we normally try. It’s like driving beside those concrete barriers: the more you try not to hit them, the more you end up drifting toward them. The more you try not to eat a chocolate piece of cake, the more you’re thinking about that cake. The key isn’t to focus on the temptation. The key’s to focus on something else, on our goal, on Christ.
I’ll give you a couple of practical steps at the end.
Dignity may be something different than you expect. It doesn’t refer to someone who’s got it all together, who carries himself a certain way. It refers to someone who is worthy of respect. If you think back to when you were a kid, there was somebody that you looked up to. I remember a guy a few years older to me. He was funny, and yet he took his walk with God seriously. He modeled a growing relationship with Christ, together with being just a fun guy. If you think of somebody that you respect in your life, that’s probably a good picture of what it means to be worthy of respect.
We need others to look up to. Parents are an important part of that, but it’s not enough. Kids need others they can talk to. Even as adults, we look to others who are just ahead of us and who can help to guide us.
This one’s hard to translate. It’s a little bit like temperance, in that it means self-mastery, but it refers more to judgment and thinking. It’s about taking the right perspective, of developing wisdom.
The way we think determines everything else in our lives. If you’ve ever talked to somebody who’s made really bad decisions in life, you find out that it all started with wrong patterns of thinking. When we think negatively or wrongly, nobody can tell at first, but our thoughts ultimately determine our direction in life. That’s why Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”
Do a check in this area. Ask how much you think cynically, how much you rationalize, how much you think negatively. You could ask yourself the opposite: how much you try to let your thoughts be shaped by Scripture, how often you try to catch negative thoughts and confront them. I find it easy to go down a cynical road myself. Evaluate yourself in this area.
4. Strong faith
This is what separates this list from a self-improvement list. This isn’t a list of qualities that we can develop by ourselves. The root of all of this is a strong faith. Paul’s not talking about the content of our faith (believing the right things) or how much faith we have. He’s talking about having a sound, healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.
If you look at anybody in the Bible who’s a model, they didn’t start out by developing all these qualities that would make them into good people. God seldom even used religious people. The people who lived significantly did so because they encountered God in such a way that it changed them. This doesn’t come from going to church or trying to improve yourself. It comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ.
This isn’t mushy love. It’s more of an action than a feeling. It’s about knowing how to build strong relationships, about avoiding relationship killers like bitterness and vindictiveness. It’s about spending time with the people who are significant to us.
At a pastor’s conference the other week, a pastor’s wife spoke to us on the subject of “What your wives want you to know.” They took a survey, and one of the pastor’s wives came to give us the results. She started out saying that the number one thing that our wives wanted us to know was that they loved us. We were all trying to be men, sort of grunting in a very masculine way – “Did you hear that, they love us? Well they should.” She went on to speak on three areas: on praying together, spending time together, and on asking our wives to share our dreams. Something as simple as booking two hours a week together just to talk. That would blow a lot of our wives away. These are some practical things we can do – not mushy, but practical – that would communicate love to our wives.
The same applies to our kids. You drive them to school, and 99 times out of 100, they’ll give you one-word answers. “How was school?” “Fine.” “What happened today?” “Nothing.” But then, the hundredth time, they’ll open up and talk. Loving your kids may mean driving them the hundred times so you’re there when they’re ready to open up and talk.
I don’t think Paul’s talking about the ability to handle long lineups and getting stuck in traffic. He’s talking about endurance, persistence, over the long haul. It’s about getting up after you’ve fallen, of taking the long view, of developing these characteristics over time so that you build a life that’s worth emulating.
I read this week that most moral failures take place in the second half of life. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it does emphasize the importance of finishing well. If you’re not perfect, but you build a strong character over the course of a lifetime, you will be a person worth emulating.
You can’t walk out of here today and put all six qualities into place immediately. You can begin to build a life that allows you to be the man God’s created you to be, and that shows strength and courage and character in all the circumstances of life that you’ll face. It all begins with the relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.
You can’t do this all at once, so here’s a bit of a takeaway for today.
First, pick one area in which you’re weak. If you’re weak in self-control, pick that one. If you’re thought life is pretty negative and cynical, choose that. If you need to do some marriage work, then select that. Don’t pick more than one; just pick one area so you’re not overwhelmed.
Second, find another guy that can walk with you. It doesn’t have to be a heavy thing. It’s not like you have to get together and get all deep and intimate right away. But guys need other guys. There are some things that a woman will never understand about you. You need someone that you can talk with, and over time, someone with whom you can open up the details of your life. I phoned a guy a few years ago and invited him out to lunch. I asked if we could get together and just talk – sometimes talk, sometimes just laugh – to keep each other sharp. He was surprised I hadn’t asked sooner. We need to find someone, maybe go golfing with them or something. We need other guys in our lives so we can say, “This is where I am in this part of my life.”
Then, finally, we need to pick an area in which we’re doing well. I don’t want to leave you all discouraged, because out of this list of six areas, you’re likely doing well in at least one of the areas, probably even more. Pick one of them and give yourself a pat on the back today.
Allow me to pray with you today, men. I pray that God would allow you to build a character that allows you to play the man in all the circumstances of your life.