I received a Christmas gift last year that I enthusiastically use just about every day. It’s the Show Me How page-a-day calendar. It uses little graphics to teach me how to do just about anything. For example, just over a month ago I learned how to fend off a mountain lion. See how easy that is? They make it so simple! That isn’t all, though. I’ve learned several useful skills that I’d like you to know about. I can treat a bee sting, though the first step for me would be to breath into a paper bag for a few minutes. I can also make a baby mop if I want to, though I feel like I missed my window of opportunity on that. If I’m hungry, I could always deep fry some tortilla chips, and that might give me something to clean off the floor as a bonus. Another skill I picked up is the ability to jump mount a pony in five easy steps, but I think I would end up with a painful dismount immediately afterward. I know how to mend a cracked shingle and also how to pit an avocado, washing my hands after fixing the shingle, of course. I can remove old wallpaper in our home…we just need to put up some wallpaper first. I already knew how to burp a baby, and I learned the hard way why the burp cloth is necessary. But there’s a new biological projectile I learned to avoid: I know how to detect impending llama spew. I am able to graft a citrus tree. And I can save a child from a coyote. I can tie a bowtie. When it’s time for some R & R, I can simply fly away in a lawn chair. If I make it back to earth, I can build a koi pond. Finally, I can rock a dynamite stage spin!
Today on Father’s Day, we are taking a look at fathers and other men of character. To be more specific, we want to look at the qualities that make up a man – a man who pleases God. That raises the question asked by every adolescent male in the history of the earth: What does it mean to be a man? Is it the legal definition that makes a man? Do you simply need to be male and complete eighteen trips around the sun? When I was eighteen and even into my twenties, I knew I was an adult, but it felt funny to think of myself as a man. Can any men identify with that feeling? And have you ever noticed a boy act in a way that was more manly than other actual men you knew?
Maybe manhood is more about acquiring skills. Maybe it’s like a collection of Show Me How skills like my calendar has. Are you a man if you can change your oil, gap your spark plugs, install a toilet, and mend those cracked shingles? I hope not, considering the number of wax seals I went through on my last toilet installation. Would the handyman requirement eliminate any other men here? So that’s not a good measurement of manhood. Besides, I really don’t want my level of manliness to be something that can be measured by a few calendar graphics.
So maybe we combine skills with rites of passage. For example, like learning to drive – my son, Dustin is doing that – or shaving or voting, perhaps. These shape us, but they don’t equate to manhood. In our confused culture, these get twisted and convoluted. I remember when an extended family member wished me a happy eighteenth birthday and asked if I marked the milestone by buying my first pack of cigarettes and porn magazine. Well, no, I hadn’t, but it highlighted to me the reality that many people have a very different concept of manhood; they equate it with swearing, sex, and swagger, elevating the womanizer and the boozer and the man who knows how to get what he wants for him and him alone.
In all of this our culture screams out for clarity and for sanity about what it truly means to be a man. This is where the truth of God’s Word comes in as our lifeline in all of the confusion. Turn in your Bibles to 1 Timothy 6. The Bible is filled with examples of fathers and other men of character – men like Abraham, Joseph, David, and Daniel – and it is filled with advice for men, especially in the Proverbs. Today, we will look at a close relationship between the Apostle Paul, and young Timothy, who Paul called his “son in the faith.” I will start by reading 1 Timothy 6:11-12, but keep your Bibles handy as we look at multiple passages in 1 and 2 Timothy.
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Notice that Paul didn’t address Timothy as simply a believer, a Christ follower, or even a young pastor. He reminded Timothy that he is a “man of God,” and then he immediately told Timothy to do something that we might consider very un-manly in our culture: Run away. Flee. Greed and the problems with it are in view in this passage, but the chief reality is that a man of God will be characterized by the actions both of fleeing and of pursuing. If we want to pursue manhood the way God designed, then we will have to set boundaries and set direction. We’ll identify four markers of fathers and other men of Character.
Embrace Authentic Manhood
First, a man of character embraces authentic manhood. When he understands what it means to be a man, he doesn’t simply dabble in it. He pursues it and claims it as his own. There are several things in life that you can’t dabble in. Marriage, career, faith. Manhood is another. It requires constant energy and dedication.
So what is authentic manhood? That term is one that Robert Lewis uses, and it’s one that we covered almost eight years ago when we started Men’s Fraternity. Lewis gives a definition of authentic manhood that I think best reflects what the Bible teaches. Here it is.
A man rejects passivity. To be passive, to wait for life to happen instead of working to shape it, is antithetical to true manhood. We are told to wait on the Lord, but that doesn’t mean we wait on the things God already revealed to us to do. Men are active creatures and not passive.
A man accepts responsibility. This one goes all the way back to Adam in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. It taps into the core of our being. God gave Adam responsibility to watch over the earth as one bearing the very image of God. His sphere of influence was more of a globe. A man understands that he has a sphere of influence, where he bears the image of a God who cares for all of us, and a man takes responsibility for it.
A man also leads courageously, understanding that where there is no vision, people perish. That is why God called men to lead as husbands and fathers. This doesn’t put down the role of women or compromise their own areas of leadership, but it does emphasize that men have something deep within them that comes alive when they faithfully provide leadership.
And a man expects the greater reward, God’s reward. This means a man looks beyond the short-term gratification and realizes his ultimate reward will come from God. Last month on Mother’s Day, we mentioned that women of character have a work ethic that turns heads. Even if no one else notices, God does. It is the same for men. Their efforts will often be recognized on earth, but ultimately they are working for their God in heaven.
Reject passivity, Accept responsibility, Lead courageously, Expect the greater reward. These describe God’s plan for men. When men don’t embrace this authentic manhood, that’s when things go haywire. Those effects are easily seen in society, perhaps most clearly in young adulthood. In an article I read, Sen. Ben Sasse calls this “perpetual adolescence,” and even though he’s a Republican congressman, I think this is a bipartisan issue. Sasse describes the large share of 18-24-year-old men who “play video games a majority of their waking hours.” “I don’t want those guys marrying my daughters,” he says. Added to that is now a majority of young people attending college who have never worked before. Not having a paid job is not necessarily the problem, but here’s a quote from the article that puts the issue at the front: “The modern era in America has largely divorced production from consumption in the lives of many young persons. The absence of meaningful work for many young persons obstructs their pursuit of the Good Life.” What does that lack of meaningful work do in the life of a young man? It doesn’t allow him to enjoy life by being free from work; it keeps him from feeding that inner longing to be productive and useful, and it leads him to pursue this need in other ways, often destructive ways.
Which men in your life stand out and show a full embrace of authentic manhood?
Poke their noses in others’ business
A second marker we find in father’s and other men of character is this: They poke their noses in others’ business. I suppose there’s room for the man who is called to be an isolated monk living in some mountain crag, but for the rest of us, we know that we live in community. We also know that the health of the community requires attention from all of us. To do that, men of character know there is a need to be involved in the lives of others. This is different from nosiness, and there’s a wrong way to go about this sort of thing, so let me give you an example of the right way.
When I was in seminary I had a lecture from Dr. Herschel York, a well-known pastor in the Louisville area. York recounted a time involving a married couple who were members of his church. He was approached by the wife who explained husband had violated his marriage covenant and had actually moved in with another woman. Dr. York had his options for how to respond. He could have written the man a letter or called his cell phone. He could have called the couple’s deacon or taken the man off the membership list. None of these was his first step. The first think York did was get into his car and drive to the home of the woman where the man had moved in. He walked up to the door and knocked, and when the man came to the door, York said, “What in the world are you doing? Get your things and get in the car. I’m taking you back home to your wife.” The man was astonished and got his things and got in the car. There was obviously a long road ahead for this man and wife – one that involved repentance and healing – but it never would have happened if York hadn’t decide to make it his business. The man needed another man to step in and say, “This is not okay, and it’s time for you to come back.”
This kind of involvement might not take the same shape for you as it did for Herschel York, but it’s the mark of a man who cares about others. It should also be about more than moral issues. In other words, the one willing to intervene with the person who loses his temper should also be willing to help him when his water heater croaks. We are meant to be involved in each other’s lives, even when it is uncomfortable.
Paul gave several commands to Timothy regarding this. 2 Timothy 2:25-26 says,
“25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
In chapter 4 Timothy is told to “correct, rebuke and encourage.” Timothy is told how to do this in 1 Timothy 5.
“1 Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
That assumes this sort of nose-poking involvement. Paul gives even more direct instruction on this in Galatians 6. He writes,
“1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Do you follow these commands? Could it be that culture has influenced you to adopt more of a live and let live approach? If so, is that really biblical? This is one practice that, when done rightly, will result in the restoration of marriages, in drawing families closer, in life-giving repentance, in ridding ourselves of sinful practices that hurt us and our walk with God. Men of character poke their noses in the business of others. They do this by going to another Christian who is headed down the wrong path and saying, “I see this happening, and I love you too much to not confront you about it.”
About five years ago I was pulling out of the church lot and heading toward the shopping center. I noticed a man walking along the sidewalk going the same direction I was. He had just finished a bottled drink of some sort, and I watched as he gave the bottle a careless toss into the grass. I don’t know that my response was the best course of action, but I gave two light taps on my car horn, and as he looked I pointed to the bottle he threw. I kept driving along, now looking at the man through my rearview mirror as he let his arms drop as if to say, “Okay, fine, I shouldn’t have done that,” and then he walked back to pick up his bottle. Well if a horn honk to a littering stranger can make the community a better place, what can happen when Christians who care about each other are willing to lovingly call each other out?
Are stubborn to a virtue
There’s another mark of fathers and other men of character. They are stubborn to a virtue. To borrow a phrase, men of character have a backbone, not a wishbone. Many of us are stubborn to a fault, but some areas require a stubbornness rooted in ground that is too precious to give up. The erosion of many areas of conviction these days has shown we need more men who will have backbones rather than wishbones, who are stubborn to a virtue.
By the way, Paul mentions this need to Timothy enough times that we can assume we aren’t in danger of over-communicating the point. He tells him to
- “hold fast the pattern of sound doctrine” (2 Tim 1:13),
- hold faith and good conscience (1 Tim 1:19),
- fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12),
- twice to guard what was committed to him (6:20),
- keep watch on his teaching (4:16),
- keep rules (5:21),
- keep the commandment unstained (6:14),
- and to not be ashamed by the testimony of the Lord (2. 1:8).
Timothy’s job was to be stubborn in all the right places.
In Soviet era Russia, there was another man who became known for his own stubbornness. His name was Ivan Vasilyevich Moiseyev, and he was a Christian serving in the Soviet Army. It was discovered that Ivan was a Christian, which meant he would be singled out, persecuted, and pressured to recant his faith. Questioned over a dozen times a day by senior officers, Ivan’s military tenure was characterized by several punishments and tortures. After being forced to clean the barracks all night he was asked, “Do you change your mind?” “No,” was the clear answer. He was forced to stand outside during the brutal winter while wearing his summer uniform; he did this for hours, and the guards wearing winter gear could only handle 15 minutes or so outside. “Do you change your mind?” Still no. Ivan was starved for five days but would not change his mind. He was placed in cramped cells, refrigerated cells, and cells with icy water showering from the ceiling. “Do you change your mind?” No. They placed him in a rubber suit and began filling it with air to place painful pressure on his body. Still, Ivan was stubborn enough to hold fast to his faith. The torture of the officers led to the unintended consequence that Ivan had the attention of every soldier in the barracks. He was able to share his faith, and many came to Christ because of him before he was tortured and murdered on July 16, 1972. A week earlier Ivan had written home, stating, “They have told me that I must not preach about Christ, but I answered that I could not stop witnessing about Jesus.”
Are you that stubborn in the important areas? When one man has backbone, it stiffens the spines of others. What will you stand for?
Pours his energy where it matters most
A final mark of a man of character is that he pours his energy where it matters most. Men feel an internal compulsion to be useful precisely in the areas that are most important and where he is most needed. Thankfully, on something this important, God gives us some of the top areas, so we don’t have to guess. Christian men, imitating Jesus and his example is priority one. If you are a husband and father, then your commitment to your wife and children comes next. And then to be honest, if you have your top three in the right order, the rest will likely fall into place. Our men’s ministry developed a mission statement that points to this. Our mission is to mobilize men for maximum impact where it matters most. We plan to invest in men to help them follow Christ better, to love their wives more faithfully, to bring up their children to follow Jesus, too. We also stress that our combined, concentrated efforts will be more effective than individual efforts. So we want our men mobilized together for central goals.
All of this reminds me of a good old-fashioned Amish barn raising. I even found a time lapse video of one, which surprised me. You’re probably familiar with these barn raisings, where the members of the community come together to build a big barn for someone. The example I found has what looks to be 30 or so men working on the barn. They finish it in just ten hours! Now imagine for a moment if those 30 men each tried to build his own barn without the help of the others. After 30 days, how many would have completed it? Very few, I imagine. But if they wanted to, the group could go to a new location each day and build 30 barns in a month. That’s what happens when good men come together for something important. They can pour their energy where it matters.
That was the vision behind the 30/30/30 challenge we began last week. What needs to be done? We need to do a better job with our outreach and steps toward deeper commitment. So we invited our men to pour their energy where it matters, and with their investment we invited the whole church to take part in it. This sort of thing taps into the pulse of men who truly want to be effective. When they find it, they can answer that adolescent question, “What does it mean to be a man?”
As we close I want to take a look at these marks of men of character and apply them to Christ. Jesus clearly embraced authentic manhood. He rejected passivity and had enough impact that our dating system hinges on his life. He accepted the responsibility that the Father gave him and courageously led his disciples, even as he looked past his present circumstances and sought the greater reward that only God the Father could offer. He poked his nose into our business. In our sinful condition, he died for us. He was not content to let us languish in our sin but stepped in to bring us life. A few interactions with the Pharisees will show that Jesus was stubborn to a virtue, never compromising on what God had revealed. That stubbornness continued even into Gethsemane, where he resolutely decided to follow the path to the cross. Where did Jesus pour his energy? He poured it into our redemption, in this case, literally. His energy – his lifeblood – was poured out to redeem us and breathe new life into us. A true man of character will walk in the footsteps of Jesus. This brings us to a time where you might want to make a commitment for Jesus. I described Jesus’ death on our behalf, and in it is the offer of true life – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – if you are willing to place your faith in him. That is a decision you can come forward and make right now, and it will be the most important decision you will ever make. You may also want to join our church or want to be baptized or just want prayer. Let this be a time where you respond to God’s call on you.