I was joking at dinner tonight about a newly acquired taste for bitter greens, a southern staple I’ve only recently begun to enjoy.
“I guess I’m just homesick,” I said.
“I didn’t know you were homesick,” Katie said.
“Not really,” I admitted. “I just miss my dad.”
I’ve thought about him a lot lately, more than I did after he died and we were still helping take care of my mom. And I think he would be proud, in a good way, when I kneel before the congregation at Countryside tomorrow as the elders and deacons lay hands on me, setting me apart for a new role as associate pastor for family ministries.
I don’t know what all that means, yet. I’ve been at this church for 25 years already, still less than half the time my Dad spent preaching the gospel. And I’ve helped do just about everything else there is to do in a church.
But this is new responsibility. And I wish he were here to see it, and to tell me what to do next.
I know what he would say, I think. He would tell me to teach men to love Christ and his church. And he would tell me to teach them to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.
Healthy families start with that. And if men do that, the widows will be cared for, the orphans will be fed and the lost will be saved. Single women will feel safe and young men will feel challenged.
That’s because men who love their wives in this way have grateful wives and radiant daughters and respectful sons. The men themselves have courage, even boldness. People are drawn to churches where this happens.
It’s one reason why Countryside is growing today. When people think of our church they often think of men who care about things that matter and do what has to be done. Our pastor and I agree that neither of our preacher fathers were ever so blessed.
But there is still so much more to do. There are fractured families, even among us; husbands and wives to be encouraged and children to be instructed. There are young men to be challenged and young women to be cherished. Sons and daughters to be sent into the ends of the earth, proclaiming the good news.
Paul tells Titus that older men are to show younger men how to be “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” This is a team effort too, since the older women teach the younger women to “be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (2:2,5).”
The text is quite clear about one thing, however, and it’s the most important thing I can say. This self-control is not so the grace of God will appear, but because it has. (2:11).
Grace comes first. That’s what the gospel is, really. And grace was the very core of God’s work in my dad’s life and ministry. He believed God’s grace was changing him and sustaining him, and he believed it would change my mother if she needed changing and sustain her when he couldn’t.
He depended on this grace as a pastor, a husband and a father, and it flowed out of him into the lives of those he loved and served, my mother first of all.
For a man to love his wife as he should means he must first understand how God loved him, and then love his wife in that way—completely, sacrificially, unconditionally.
Then, however imperfectly, the pattern and the power flow out to others, his family, his friends and his coworkers, extending over generations.
Yes, I know. We all have this responsibility to demonstrate the love of God. But in healthy families it starts with dads. It must mean something when a child thinks of God as his father. And this is where ministries to families begin.
I know what to do. My dad showed me. And Titus tells me.
I am to be a model and teach with integrity. I am to declare these things, exhorting and rebuking with all authority, as the text says (2:7,15).
But knowing it and doing it are two different matters.
So pray for me, that God will work through me and his grace will flow from me. And pray that our men will be strengthened and our homes will flourish, overflowing with generosity and joy.
For years, Garrison Keillor has talked about Lake Wobegon, where all the men are strong, the women are good looking, and the children are above average.
We want more than that for Countryside.
We want what God wants, men who are respected, women who are loved and children who are secure in the promises of God.
He is our Father, after all.
And our hearts long for him.