Happy Fathers Day, men! Have you heard the connection between Mothers Day, the YMCA, and Fathers Day? Sonora Dodd was listening to a sermon commending Moms when she thought of her Dad. You see, her Mom had died giving birth when Sonora was a teenager, leaving her Dad to raise five kids on his own. Sonora thought he was doing a pretty good job and ought to be praised for it. So she went to the Spokane YMCA and suggested her father’s birthday become a celebration of Dads. They picked a different day in order to plan out a bit more, but the first Fathers Day in America was celebrated in Spokane, Washington 110 years ago. And Sonora? She got to see her Dad—and all fathers—celebrated all the way till she went on to her reward at the ripe old age of 96!
Today it’s time to build men up with a dive into the hope that godly men bring. Whether you’re a Dad or not, this message is for all men. Because there is incalculable power in the hope that godly men can bring to these days.
You see that now more than perhaps any time in our lives, people are grasping for hope. You can bring it. I want to show you how, from a New Testament passage that has its roots in deep conflict, but shows how godly men can bring hope by how we deal with one another. We’ll look at Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 2 and verses 7-12.
While you turn there, let me give you the tension-filled backdrop from Acts chapter 17. Paul and his church-planting team are traveling around the Mediterranean when they land in the strategic business-hub city of Thessalonica. As is his custom, rabbi Paul heads to the local Jewish synagogue and, each weekly Sabbath, reasons with the locals from Scripture, showing how Jesus is the leader they’ve long been waiting for; Jesus is the leader we most need.
As a side note for our conflict-filled time, the verb translated that Paul reasoned week after week with the locals is the word from which we get dialogue. It was a two-way exchange, listening as well as speaking, something much needed in any conflict.
Well some become persuaded. They say yes to this new understanding that faith and works ought to be first and foremost about following Jesus. The ways Jesus treated people, we need to treat people. The laser-clear teachings Jesus laid out, we want to come under, letting them challenge us and confront us and change us. And the sacrificial example of Jesus needs to fuel us to give our time and effort and risk to unburden others. Some say yes to that and begin working out what that can look like in everyday practice.
But others get agitated. They don’t like the changes. They perceive the changes as a threat. So they round up some unsavory characters, form a mob, and incite a riot.
Because recent protests in our day have included outbreaks of violence, I need to be crystal clear that in Thessalonica, the riot came from those who were resisting change. It was not a protest demanding much-needed change and justice. It was plain and simple a violent fight against peaceful people who wanted nothing more than to walk in Jesus’ ways.
With the riot kicking off, Paul has to escape to safety under cover of darkness, and flee to a different city.
That’s the backstory on Paul writing to this group of people, after violence forced him to flee. Although he had to leave, his work among them wasn’t done. So he writes to help them. And in today’s Scripture, Paul describes the hope that godly men can bring. He uses images from parenting, but he’s not a father. He draws on images from fathering, even though he’s not a Dad. So truly, this passage speaks to all men, laying side by side three contrasts between the kind of man who drains hope, and the kind of men who fuel hope in others. Ready? Here’s the first:
Aloofness drains hope; Being an “open book” fuels it.
Many men are ‘present but not voting’ when it comes to fueling hope in their kids, their wife, their coworkers, and fellow Christians. Many men pursue success at work but are absentee at home, aloof. Both of the senior pastors I served under excelled in growing a church but fell short as husbands and fathers. They were so ‘married’ to success at work that their family got just the cold leftovers.
Paul contrasts that with the hope you bring when you become an ‘open book’ at home and work. Surprisingly, he starts with an image from motherhood, writing…
“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only God’s good news but our lives as well. Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you.” 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9
To the men who work hard to provide for your family and live generously, you rock! Family members, I hope this Fathers Day you point that out and celebrate it!
What Paul does is stretch us to go beyond only the job to also being an open book at home.
- Some of you grew up with a Dad who modeled this powerfully.
- Others had a father who for whatever reasons was unapproachable and didn’t leave an example worth repeating.
- Still others grow up without Dad in the picture.
Whatever was modeled for you in your family growing up, you can become a man who fuels hope—in your family, church, workplace, and beyond. Here’s an example. Roger Gelwicks grew up in this church. He’s able to explain very practically how his Dad fueled hope and passed on a thriving faith to his now-grown kids. Here’s Roger…
There it is! When you work hard and you’re engaged with your kids—you’re an open book—you fuel their hope. That’s the first contrast Paul lays out—the choice to reject aloofness and in its place be hands on, ‘open book’ with your kids.
Hypocrisy drains hope; Sincerely pursuing Jesus fuels it.
Verse 10, Paul is able to honestly write…
“You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were holy and godly and without blame toward all of you believers.” 1 Thessalonians 2:10
He’s not talking about perfection; he’s talking about being the same person at home and work as you are at church. Are you the real deal?
I’ve met peers who grew up knowing their parents chose their church in order to impress, to connect with the “right” people. It was about gaining power, prestige, and wealth, not sincerely pursuing Jesus in community.
Hypocrisy drains hope; sincerely pursuing Jesus fuels it. Paul lays out three actions that prove your faith is genuine, sincere, the real deal. They are holiness, godliness, and blamelessness.
- To be holy is to be set apart for God.
- To be godly is to actively imitate Jesus and the heroes of the faith who have gone before us and left us amazing examples to follow.
- To be without blame here refers not to perfection but rather that who you claim to be matches who you actually are outside of church. Your faith is sincere, not a veneer.
These three actions remind me of Harvey. There’s a whole front row of exercise bikes that Harvey and his pals occupied in the Fishers YMCA before the pandemic. Their conversation covered the gamut from politics to religion and everything in-between. One of their cycling pals self-identifies as an atheist, we’ll call him Keith. Harvey is black and Keith is white.
Keith stopped by the free prayer table we set up in the main hallway of the YMCA a while back. He volunteered his thoughts on the Bible and Christianity. Then he shifted to a story about Harvey. One day Harvey invited Keith to join his church’s outreach to men in Indianapolis, where Harvey’s church is. Keith agreed.
Keith described how several men met at the church to put together bags of groceries that they were going to then go out in a local city park to give away to those in need. But before they went out, Harvey’s pastor asked the men to circle up and grab the hand of the man on either side of you…and he led in prayer. Then they went out.
Keith discovered that’s not all they do. They also have a suit ministry. What’s a suit ministry? In some neighborhoods, it’s highly unlikely that men own a suit. So when men from Harvey’s church encounter a man who is looking for work, they invite him to come to the church to, for free, get fitted with a suit, dress shirt, tie, socks and dress shoes. Now he’s dressed for success, better positioned to interview for a job. And while that’s not everything needed to get ahead, it’s something. And Harvey’s church makes it happen.
Atheist Keith tells me this, conveying admiration and respect, and concludes with this: “You know, I haven’t had my epiphany on the road to Emmaus. But if I ever do, that’s the kind of Christian I want to be!”
That’s it! That’s what Paul inspires us as men to aim for. Keith can’t help but see the sincerity of Harvey’s faith. He walks in holiness, godliness, and blamelessness. Hypocrisy drains hope; sincere faith fuels it. The third and final contrast Paul lays before us is that…
Provoking drains hope; Hands-on fathering fuels it.
Verses 11-12, Paul writes…
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
There are ways to influence change in your family and workplace and church that inspire and motivate change. And there are clearly ways we try to bring about change that are destructive, that drain the hope right out of the hearts of our kids and wives and coworkers and neighbors and fellow church members.
Paul zeroes in on three of the best actions in fathering—encouraging, comforting, and urging others to live worthy of God, to pursue God who pursues us.
Who has done that for you? Who has encouraged, comforted, and urged you to live worthy of God who calls us into his kingdom?
A lot of people have done this for me, and continue to. Right now, I’m listening more to godly black men than I have in the past. As they open the Scriptures in light of their experiences and history, it’s encouraging. It’s comforting. And they’re clearly urging me and my peers to think more deeply and see more clearly and act more boldly. This is the best of fathering, even though they’re not my Dad! You can do the same for others.
- Fathering means you bring encouragement when those around you are down.
- Fathering means you offer comfort when those around you are upset.
- And fathering also means you urge, you implore change in skewed behaviors and words and attitudes.
- So when’s the last time you encouraged someone? Do you know? Have you gotten so caught up in all that’s happening that you’ve forgotten to encourage others along the way?
- When’s the most recent time you comforted someone, beginning with your own family? There are people near you who deeply need to be comforted right now. Let’s not miss this moment.
- And how recently have you urged, implored someone to live for the Lord and his kingdom?
True story: The U.S. has a congressional program of internships for young people who have aged out of the foster care system. These are kids who never got adopted and they’re no longer eligible for state support.
A senator employed one such young man as an intern. One morning the senator breezed in for a meeting and discovered that the intern was already in the office, reorganizing the whole mailroom. The senator stopped for a moment and remarked, “This is amazing—the mailroom has never looked so clean! You did a great job.”
A few minutes later he happened by again and notices tears on that young man’s face. He asked, “Son, are you okay?”
“Yes,” the intern answered quietly. “Did I say something to offend you?”
“Well, what’s wrong?”
The intern replied, “That’s the first time in my life anyone’s told me that I did something good.”
(Men of Integrity, “How Little It Takes,” November/December 2010, citing Sean and Liegh Anne Tuohy book In a Heartbeat)
Men, it’s time for us to step up.
- You fuel hope, you supercharge hope, when you become an encourager.
- You fuel hope when you bring comfort into very uncomfortable conversations.
- You fuel hope when you live worthy of the name Christian, and urge others to do the same.
We can do this. We must.
- The Lord is with us.
- The world is watching.
- Our families are waiting.
- And right now especially, black members of our community and nation need for us to become men who fuel hope, not drain it.
How will we get there? Here’s a start:
- Don’t be aloof; show compassion and empathy. Become an open book.
- Don’t be a hypocrite; sincerely pursue Jesus with an open mind for blind spots and areas where we need to change.
- And finally, don’t provoke. Instead, inspire change by encouraging, comforting, and urging according to what each person needs, in each conversation. Bring the best of fathering into your dealings with others, beginning at home and extending outwards.
Would you allow me to pray for you right now? Let’s pray.
Our Father in heaven, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Hear us as we draw near to you and one another. Raise men up, I pray, to be more like what Paul modeled here, and less like the mess we find ourselves in as a society.
We call on you to help us hear what the Spirit is saying to the church at this time. Don’t let us miss you leading.
We ask that you give great wisdom to the medical community in discovering treatments and immunization to this virus.
For those who are tired, we ask you to renew their strength.
For those who are angry, we ask you to direct them to wise efforts that will bring needed change.
For those who are hurting, jobless, or grieving, we ask you to provide and to lead your people in coming alongside them in tangible ways.
For those in positions of authority in government and police, we ask you to give wisdom beyond their own, empathy for those they represent, and the right partnerships to move forward well.
And for your church, we pray, lead us forward and together, in the name of Jesus who has all authority in heaven and earth. Display your authority, we ask, in ways that fuel our hope and draw many to you.
Hear us, O Lord, and pour out the answers to these prayers. Amen.
Men of yChurch, God bless you today! I love you. You make me a better man.
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God bless you today!