6 Essential Truths For Cultivating Biblical Manhood

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This summer we spent six weeks covering various topics and asking probing questions in order to challenge each other about what it looks like to fight against the malaise of masculine mediocrity that too often is the default for many men. Does God have a good and gracious design for us as men, or not? If He does, then should we not pursue it relentlessly for God’s glory, the good of others and our joy? Is it enough to settle for avoiding the caricature of the modern man as a buffoon, which is so often expressed in various forms of media? Or is there a biblical standard that we should doggedly pursue so that our families, our local churches and our communities flourish and the gospel is advanced?

To be the Godly men God created us to be, here are six crucial truths that men must hold to and excel at.

  1. Men must make the Bible their authority for all they think, say and do. We must relentlessly build our lives on what the Bible says about our masculinity, because if we don’t, all we do will fall and be lost. We will either live Jesus’ way, or another way – the wrong way (Matthew 7:24-27). There are really only two ways for people to live, and that reality also extends to our manhood. Ultimately the decision to submit ourselves to God, comes down to whether we trust God and His goodness toward us in His design, or whether we don’t. Who do you trust? Who do you believe about what it means to be a biblical and Godly man? Your response to God’s word reveals the answer.
  2. Men must have a biblical definition of manhood. Real men do what – Serve? So do real women. Real men persevere – right? So do real women. There are bumper stickers that say that real men love Jesus. Is a woman a man if she really loves Jesus? So what is a real man? We can’t relentlessly pursue biblical manhood if we don’t know what biblical manhood is. What makes manhood unique? Here is a definition: Biblical Manhood is gladly embracing the initiative for the primary responsibility to sacrificially provide and protect God’s design and creation according to His word, and for His glory (Genesis 2:15-18 and Ephesians 5:25-27). Women can lead, take initiative, serve, sacrificially love, give, do hard things, encourage their husbands to follow Christ and be Godly dads, etc. But the distinguishing mark is that men take the initiative for the primary responsibility of these things. A biblical man accepts the responsibility to plan and act to love Jesus and help others to do the same. If the male has to constantly be nudged or pushed to take the initiative, then something other than biblical manhood is happening.
  3. Men must discipline themselves for Godliness. Left to themselves, men tend to be passive and lazy toward the initiative to take primary responsibility. We must discipline ourselves for the purpose of masculine godliness (1 Timothy. 4:7-8). We must be gospel-changed and gospel-driven men who fill our lives with God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) to fight the spiritual battles we will face (Ephesians 6:10-17). Even though it is hard, and even though it may hurt, we must engage the means of grace God has given us to do what He expects of us. On the other hand, men must also be careful not to discipline themselves for the sake of crossing off a list, or to be seen by others. The spiritual disciplines that empower us to love God and others are a means, not an end – lest we make even a good thing an idol or a way to perform for the praise of others. Having said that, I suspect most men trend toward laziness and passivity. “No man will be a spiritual leader in his home if he is not going deep with God in his own private life.” John Piper We cannot be the consistent leaders we need to be if we are inconsistent in filling our lives with God’s means of life-giving grace.
  4. Men must be honest with God and others. We need to be honest with others and others need our honesty. Men tend to hide weaknesses and failures because they want to be respected as someone who has all their stuff together – as though anyone has it all together. When men close themselves off, they are playing into the hands of the enemy and are hurting those who follow them because they teach others how to hide from what is real. Men must be relationally engaged in the life of the local church so they can get to know other men they can trust. They must be willing to take the risk of sharing honestly about what they struggle with so others can ask helpful questions and pray specifically for them. Honest confession is biblical and good for those who trust God enough to practice it (Psalm 32:5 and James 5:16). Many men are wasting away inwardly, and perhaps outwardly, because they are not man enough to be honest. Wise vulnerability is not optional for the Godly man.
  5. Men must fight for sexual purity. This is something every man battles with. Whether it is lust, pornography, adultery, etc., every man must discipline himself and find honest accountability if we are going to walk in ongoing sexual purity. This is Satan’s biggest weapon against men and he uses it to devastate men spiritually. One blogger who worked with college students said the number one issue he dealt with was young men who had a lack of assurance of salvation because of habitual porn use. If they were really Christians, why do they keep sinning this way? Were they really repenting? Sexual immorality makes men numb to the image of God in women, to the spiritual needs of their family and it makes us hide from God in the shadows of shame and guilt.
  6. Men must build a difference-making culture of biblical manhood in their homes and as a part of their local church. How does this happen? First, men have to know how to be men and they must contend together to hold the line of manhood. The first five truths of manhood articulated above, represent the line we must know and hold. There certainly are other truths that would help us be Godly men, but the aforementioned five are critically important. There has to be some sort of expectation and plan. There has to be some way of evaluating whether or not we are acting like biblical men, and when we know what needs to be done, we can fight for these things together. We can stand shoulder to shoulder and encourage, admonish and even rebuke each other according to the need of the moment under the authority of God’s word. Think about just a few examples of men who did not trust God’s word and hold the line. Adam did not hold the line in Genesis 3:1-6, and now we all are infected with sin and are destined to die once and face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Abraham had a very specific promise from God that he would miraculously be given a son, but he listened to Sarai and took matters (Hagar) into his own hands and the consequences persist even to this day. Abraham did not hold the line in Genesis 16:1-6. In 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12, David did not act like the man after God’s own heart. Rather he committed a slew of sins for which people lost their lives, and for which he momentarily lost his integrity. Second, men have to move forward by helping others to know the line and hold it. We have to lead our families to know and trust God. We have to help men in our church fight against the tendency to be lazy and passive in their manhood. Men must be inviting others to join them in following Jesus. We must lovingly press men to love the gospel deeply and share it freely. We must challenge men to be teachable, reminding them of all that Jesus commanded for obedience. We must call for courage and risk-taking. We must own the responsibility of being the solution when there are deficiencies and problems, instead of just being a critic and problem-finder. We must take it upon ourselves to equip and train Godly men who will carry out the mission of the church.

 We must know the line. We must hold the line. And we must advance the truth that there is a way for Godly men to live. A man with no plan to be a biblical man, is no man at all. Our families, our churches and our world need more biblical and Godly men.

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Tearing Out Your Eyes For Purity

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Manversation – The first goal for our time is to build meaningful and honest relationships with other men.

  • One more week next week and 5 Groups – you can continue what we have started here by being a in 5Group.
  • Introduce yourself – name, phone number and known birth marks 🙂
  • When was the first time you looked at porn and how does that make you feel now? Would you go back and undo what you looked at back then?
    • ILL: I read the other day of 9 yr old girl who began looking at porn when she was 6 because lack of supervision on a device.

Relentlessly Pursing Purity in our Manhood

This is a massive problem because of the proliferation the accessibility of porn – it is just a click away!

  • Porn makes more money than the NFL, NBA and MLB combined. Not to mention marketing that prostitutes the bodies of women to sell products and services.

What is sexual sin?

  • Matthew 5:27-30 – Sexual perversion is: Rebelling against God’s design by physically, mentally or emotionally acting like you are married to someone when you are not, and/or sexually mistreating your spouse.
  • Jesus says sexual sin is ultimately a heart issue in us that must be aggressively and severely dealt with. Eternity hangs in the balance (Matthew 5:30).

What does sexual sin do to men?

  • God dysfunction A blogger claimed the # 1 issue among college men is the sin of lusting over porn that results in doubting the assurance of their salvation.
  • Relational dysfunction – it results in our dishonoring the image of God in women. It makes us less helpful spiritually.
  • Sexual dysfunction – studies find that men who look at pornography are less intimate with their spouse.
  • “Sin is missing the mark. It is transgression. It is rebellion. It is iniquity. It is evil, and only evil. It covers us with guilt and shame and shame and filthiness. It is folly, the opposite of wisdom. It is a lie, the opposite of truth. It unmans a man. Left to itself it crushes him who indulges in it. It covers the soul with a pall (dark cloud) of the deepest sadness. It separates between God and his creature. One sin naturally leads to another. It shuts the mouth. It opens hell…And God hates it. If we think lightly of sin, we shall not be much concerned to get rid of its guilt or defilement, nor be very watchful against its assaults, nor very thankful for supposed deliverance from its curse or its power.” WS Plumer

 Why are men so susceptible to the sin of sexual perversion?

  • We are visually driven. This isn’t all bad. There is something good in that God has given us this drive. But it is reserved for our spouse and it is dangerous when perverted. Matthew 6:22 “They eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, you whole body will be full of light.”
    • The sins that are the most dangerous are the ones that are perversions of a good thing God has created for His glory and our enjoyment.
  • We are not disciplined and so we are:
    • Lazy – porn and lust are too good to be true. Porn is too easy. Relationships that produce loving physical and intimate interactions require patience and serving. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” Ps. 119:9.
    • Empty – Full of the flesh and not of the Spirit. Because we are lazy, we do not discipline ourselves for Godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-8) and therefore we are not full of the things of God, which leaves lots of room for the flesh.
  • We are fake – we are not honest. We must be accountable about the extent of our struggle with sexual sin.

 Why Are These Men Downloading Child Porn from May 30, 2017 Psychology Today  “One popular sight boasts 91 million videos were viewed last year alone. That is 12.5 videos for every person on earth. The popularity of internet porn is generally attributed to the three A’s – anonymity, availability and affordability. People can learn about sex and engage in experimentation without personal vulnerability or fear of embarrassment. There is no responsibility for another’s satisfaction.”

How do we fight for the joy of purity?

  • We make sure we are saved. You need positional righteousness and you need Spirit power that comes from becoming a new creation (Eph. 1:12-13 and 2 Cor. 5:17).
  • We make sure we are repenting. If you fail and fall, repent. Repent as much as you have to in order to progressively kill the sin of sexual immorality.
  • We fight it with every weapon we can muster:
    • We make commitments (Job. 31:1) to ourselves and others.
    • We make sure we are nourished and full of the Spirit. Eph. 5:18
    • We employ negative ILL: Could be your daughter or mom. Are you a rapist?
      • Are you an atheist? Then why do you act like no one is seeing when God is looking? God is with us and watching.
    • We preach to ourselves that those we love the most need our purity. Don’t you want to be spiritually sensitive to God? Don’t you want to be able to say to your children, you can do this.
  • We warn our sons and daughters about it. By the age of eleven, we have better have had the talk about the dangers that lurk and can kill.
  • We choose to never to give up, repenting and clinging to the perfect ­­­­gospel.

Remind ourselves that sex is God’s idea and it is good when done within the protective boundaries of marriage (Gen. 1:27; 2:24).

PRAYER – Lord God, help us to trust in Christ for our standing before You. Help us to be full of Your Holy Spirit and to be like Your Son, who was fully human and never sinned sexually. Lord God, empower us to never give up fighting sexual perversion, for the good of others and your glory and our joy. Amen.

Should We Devote a Sunday To the Fourth of July and Other Holidays?

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This past week social media was buzzing with comments and posts about celebrating and/or recognizing the Fourth of July as a part of Sunday morning worship gatherings. There are wide-ranging views (often generational) about what is appropriate when it comes to patriotism and Jesus. For example, some of the questions being volleyed back and forth are: “Should churches have patriotic services?” “Should there be an American Flag in the worship gathering space?” “Are we elevating country and civil religion over the kingship of Jesus?” These questions, like almost all things in this increasingly contentious culture, are not easily resolved.

In light of these questions, and others, here is an article that I found to be biblical and representative of how I see this increasingly sensitive conversation. But even this balanced article reveals the tension we find ourselves dealing with in regard to the place of national pride in the life of Christ-worshiping churches. Our temporal love of country should not divide the forever people of God and churches of Jesus Christ.

On top of all the theological and cultural arguments for and against recognizing a holiday like the Fourth of the July, there is a more practical concern that often goes unmentioned.

Do we really have enough time? Is this the best use of our Sunday mornings?

Even if a church wanted to recognize a day like the Fourth, or Memorial Day or any other special day, how would they squeeze them all in without squeezing out regular, through-the-Bible preaching? And how would they decide what is worthy of addressing and what is not?

Take this list of prominent calendar days and consider the sermons that could preached for each one.

  1. New Year’s Day – getting a new start and living for a greater purpose
  2. Sanctity of Life Sunday – whether born or unborn, all life matters
  3. Valentine’s Day – working on relationships and love
  4. Easter (Resurrection of Jesus Christ Day) – the resurrection changes everything
  5. Graduation Day (High School and University) – God has great plans for your life
  6. Mother’s Day – mothers are great and we all love them
  7. Memorial Day – thanks to the many who made sacrifices for our freedom, especially Jesus
  8. Father’s Day – dads need to get their acts together and lead
  9. Independence Day – thank God for this nation under God
  10. Labor Day – God made work and rest
  11. Thanksgiving Day – are you thankful? If not, then you are not in God’s will (1 Thess. 5:18)
  12. Christmas Day – Jesus was clothed in flesh to live with us that He might die for us

That’s 12 days. 12 is a nice number when talking about the twelve tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples, but not for topical preaching. If a preacher did a sermon for every significant holiday that meant something to someone, he would have to give up 12 sermons a year. That is 23% of the year.

Our Eagle Heights faith family usually acknowledge days like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, and I am thankful for each of those days, because we should be thankful for our nation’s freedom and those God used to preserve it. But when I think about what the church is and why we gather, I would rather reserve special occasions and sermons for days that are explicitly Christian, or days that transcend our temporal county (Hebrews 13:14) – unless there is very special reason to do so. It is biblically hard to ignore Christmas and Easter, and Sanctity of Life Sunday is really about God’s creative rights and the dignity of every person He has created. And sometimes we will focus on Mother’s and Father’s Day, but we can’t do them all.

Please hear me loud and clear. I am thankful for my country and the men and women who have served and sacrificed. I love my mom and dad, and I hope the best for graduates. I also want everyone to be loved and keep their covenant of marriage, but I am committed first and foremost to the kingdom of King Jesus. We have 52 weeks a year to gather and I want to give those weeks to the most important person in the universe while being secondarily thankful for all the other good things we celebrate. Jesus and His agenda must always have first place, and everything else must bow to Him. Even our love of country and the holidays that remind us to honor and celebrate.

Are There Biblical Reasons For Divorce?

I recently received an email from a former church member who asked whether there were biblical grounds for a Christian to seek a divorce. If Jesus tells us we are not to separate (Matthew 19:6) what God has joined in a life-long covenant (Genesis 2:24), then are there biblical reasons for getting a divorce?

I turned this into a public post for several reasons: 1) to answer the question 2) to help others who know professing Christians who may be considering divorce 3) to serve as a warning about pursing divorces that are not biblical 4) to remind us that divorce is not defining. The gospel of Jesus is greater. The gospel is greater than divorce.

The following answer is not exhaustive, but it is a beginning attempt to answer a very challenging question. Here is what I wrote in response to the aforementioned question.

(If you read any part of this, please read the next to last paragraph too.)

To begin with, this is a very difficult topic because so many have been divorced and in many cases many feel and/or believe they are justified in divorcing because of any number of reasons that makes the commitment to their spouse undesirable. This is very emotional to people and that makes it a hard topic to address. When trying to talk with people about what God says about divorce, people will have many reasons for which they deeply believe they have the right to divorce. Maybe they just are not happy. Maybe they chose the wrong “soulmate”. Maybe all trust was lost because of money. In a no-fault divorce, culture, the reasons are many and varied. Many people just steer clear of it to avoid confrontation or causing further hurt, but the Bible has something to say about it. Are we to ignore God’s word and say nothing?

First, let’s reestablish what marriage is and what God’s part is in bringing it about. The idea from the beginning, is that marriage was intended to be a life-long, covenant commitment between one man and one woman (Gen. 1:27; 2:24 and Matthew 19:1-6). That is God’s beautiful design and will for the lives of those who would make this covenant, one-flesh commitment. Jesus said in Matthew 19:6, “What God has brought together, let no man separate.” So when someone pursues a divorce, you can be sure of one thing: There is hardness of heart (Mark 10:5) and that means sin is flourishing instead of God’s original and perfect design. Divorce is ALWAYS the result of sin, and what is sin? Sin is the rejection of God’s goodness and God’s way, which results in trusting the way of the world and our way, and this leads to disobedience. Obedience is what we do when we trust God’s goodness toward us and others. Divorce is the result of not trusting God.

Second, divorce that is unsanctioned by the Bible leads to adultery. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18) Why is this so? Because the person who declares and acts like they have ended the existing marriage, then goes to another person and engages in a second marriage when the first marriage has not ended. They are committing adultery against the first union which no one should separate. God brought the first union together, and the person who did the divorcing is acting like God and pretending they can just dissolve the union. They can’t. It still exists and they are going on to another relationship and acting like they are unmarried. Biblically, they are still married and, therefore, they are committing adultery. Are you tracking with me?

However, there are biblical reasons for divorce. There are exceptions. But before we explore the exceptions, keep in mind that even if there are legitimate reasons for divorce, sin that flows from a hard heart that is set against God is still the root problem. Sin always confuses, distorts, destroys, hurts, scars, etc. Divorce is never a good thing. Having said that, the first biblical exception that allows for divorce, resulting in termination of the covenant that God created, is physical adultery (Matthew 5:31-32). So if a man or woman commits physical adultery, that infidelity would be grounds for divorce. However, my hope would be that the one who was sinned against would grant forgiveness if the offending partner repented. Sometimes people make really bad decisions, but that doesn’t always mean they are not a believer who desires to trust and obey Jesus. If they repent, that is a good sign that they have growing to do, or just had a really bad lapse in judgment. The consequences will not soon be forgotten, but there is hope for that marriage if repentance happens. If adultery becomes a pattern, I don’t see how a person could do anything but get a divorce since the faithful partner would be stuck in a lie that they are in a monogamous, biblical relationship. It takes two faithful people to be married. The second exception that allows divorce is that of abandonment – particularly by an unbelieving spouse. The fact is that a true believing disciple would not abandon their spouse permanently, and even if they did for a moment, we should expect them to show signs of listening to Godly counsel and moving toward repentance since this is such a cut and dry teaching in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 7:10-16, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes that if a believing spouse has an unbelieving spouse, they are not to divorce them. However, if the unbelieving spouse abandons the believing spouse, Paul says to let them go (1 Cor. 7:15). More than likely the context here is that either a husband or wife has become a new believer and their spouse did not convert or get saved, so the natural question would be: “Should a new believer stay married to an unbeliever?” Paul says as long as the unbeliever consents to continue the covenant, stay with them and work for peace in the relationship. The covenant should be honored and the believer should not leave the unbeliever, but the opposite may indeed happen. I also want to suggest that any abandonment must be a physical abandonment. Many men, and sometimes women, are emotionally and spiritually absent, but it seems to me the context is one in which the unbeliever says I don’t want to stay together, and decides to move on literally (1 Cor. 7:12). These are the only two exceptions I see in scripture to Jesus’ command, “What God has brought together, let not man separate.”

A couple of other thoughts might be helpful regarding this very difficult topic. When I have dealt with this, it is always very messy and very confusing to those who are divorcing and to those who are trying to help the divorcing couple save their marriage. When the word divorce starts getting tossed around, it usually is the result of many years of hurt and pain that often leads to a really bad decision like adultery. I say this, not to make an excuse for adultery, abandonment or divorce, but to point out that these twisted webs that have been woven, often take a lot of challenging work to untangle. Sometimes it will take many, many meetings and many years for relational health to flourish. There are often no quick fixes and repentance often is a process of many decisions and many ups and downs, not just a one-time decision.

So what if someone has divorced their spouse but did not have a legitimate biblical reason, and now a long time later, they realize that they were wrong? The good news is this: Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are a new creation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 and 1 Corinthians 5:17). Be careful though, no one should continue to sin that grace may abound or increase (Romans 6:1). But if you are just now realizing, “Oh No! I was wrong!” – that is good news. That means you are sensitive to the work of God’s Spirit through the Word of God. One of the most certain marks of a true believer in Christ is that of conviction of sin (John 16:8-11). What then can be done, especially sense there are those who likely can’t undo what they have undone with divorce? Repent. Trust in God’s forgiving grace and boldly confess to Him the wrong that has been done. And then seek forgiveness from those who have been hurt, as much as it depends on you. This may mean contacting by phone or letter a former spouse, children or anyone who was hurt in the process. If you are convicted and you can change course in the short term, then do that before too much time goes by. The good news of the gospel is that when Jesus saves us and transforms us, we have a righteous standing before the Holy God of the universe. We are righteous in Christ, by faith alone in Christ alone. God’s grace through Christ, is greater than all our sins. A divorce that is not biblically sanctioned may seem like a special sin that can’t be forgiven, but if God can forgive, then there is something to rejoice about despite the hurt and pain. The person that I am most concerned about is the person who claims to be a Christian, and runs headlong into sin thinking, “Well, I will just ask for forgiveness later. After all, God wants me to be happy.” Yes, God wants you to be happy. But the kind of happiness God has for you is not the kind of happiness the world promises. Eternal and lasting happiness is the kind that comes from pursing holiness and obeying God’s commands. Any happiness that comes from opposing God’s clear and written word will not last.

Divorce is never good. It tears a part what God has done. It comes from a hard heart toward God, and is not loving toward others. And it produces a lot of damage and even spiritual death. But keep in mind that God can also rescue and restore. By the power of the Holy Spirit, I pray He uses Bible-trusting Christians for the good of others and His glory. There is lasting joy in trusting and obeying God’s word and loving others with it.

I hope this helps far more than it hurts. But sometimes things have to hurt before there can be help and healing.

An Eagle Heights Report of Encouragement – 06.07.17

This past Sunday the Elders and I met and we ended our meeting discussing what we were encouraged about, as well as, what areas we would like to see more fruit. We hope to see more of us sharing the gospel where the Lord has placed us. We hope to see more families come and stay with us to labor in a small city, university context that is very transient. I would like to see us excel in prayer more and more since it is an expression of our faith in God. Do we trust God and depend on Him? How much do we trust Him? The biblical quality and frequency of our praying tells the story. We will never arrive on this side of heaven, but we always seek to press forward and grow in the strength that God supplies (1 Peter 4:11). There is more work to do.

On the other hand, one of the themes of encouragement that came from our meeting was what God is doing in mobilizing and sending people to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation. Several examples were mentioned and one the opportunities we are really excited about is the possibility of doing more with international students right here in Stillwater. That was on Sunday.

On Monday my family and I gathered with the Roger’s Core Group to hear Ryan Johnson talk about what God is doing through his family and team with Syrian Refugees. The Roger’s CG has developed a relationship with the Johnsons and they support them by prayer and financial giving. I was highly encouraged and challenged to see the depth of the work, but was also encouraged to see the biblical simplicity of it. I didn’t get to hear about all they were doing because I was watching my kiddos and we had to leave early, but one portion was particularly interesting to me when he described how they are discipling people to disciple others.

Once someone comes to Christ, this is their process:

  • They read or listen to the Bible together.
  • They ask what the text means and what it teaches them about Jesus.
  • They then ask how those listening to identify how they should trust and obey Jesus based on what they have heard. What would Jesus have them do to trust and obey Him?
  • Once they grasp the meaning of God’s word, they ask who they can share this with.
  • Finally, to the best of my memory, they ask those in the group how they can serve in their community.

They begin with God’s word and challenge their listeners to hear and obey Jesus so they can help others do the same.

This isn’t all they do to serve and share Christ with people, but it struck me how simple this process is and how easy it is to replicate for multiplication. They are living and serving in a very different context than that of our local church, but since Jesus walked on earth, this is really how those who follow Jesus have been doing gospel ministry. This is exactly what Eagle Heights is trying to do as well: Glorifying God together by trusting Jesus and obeying all He commands – and teaching others to do the same.

You all know that we are not a perfect local church, but we have much to be thankful to God for as He continues to work among us to make disciples of all the nations, beginning here in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I hope and pray that we will excel still more and more.

A Psalm 71 Present For My Birthday Boy

E Baby B.DayNo matter how you look at it, life is a precious gift. If you are a Christian, then you recognize that life is an especially meaningful gift because it is designed by God for an eternal purpose. The Bible tells us so.

Today is my son’s eleventh birthday. I love that boy and I want to do spiritual, eternal good to Him. I want him to know that he is intricately designed for a God-glorifying purpose. For this reason, when our children have birthdays, besides giving them gifts, parties and special privileges, I try to say something meaningful to them from God’s word. So this morning I asked him to stop what he was doing on his iPad so he could look at me and I read to him Psalm 71:4-6.

 

Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, Out of the grasp of the wrongdoer and ruthless man, For You are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth. By You I have been sustained from my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s womb; My praise is continually of You.

When I was done reading I said to him something like this:

Son, did you know that just like the person who wrote this passage thousands of years ago, you too have been sustained from your birth by the almighty hand of God? Son, did you know that He brought you from your mother’s womb with breath and life? Did you know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made? So son, find your hope in this God; the only God (5). Son, call out to the LORD God when you are in trouble (4). Son, may you see the goodness of God to you now that you are a youth and are growing into a man (5b), and in response, may you always praise God continually (6). Son, daddy loves you and the best thing for you is to know and follow this God, though Jesus. I thank God for you, son. Happy Birthday.

I didn’t sit down and write a mini-sermon. I just read the text to him and responded by expressing how God’s breathed-out word applied to him on this important day in which we remember that God gave us a very special gift.

Do you do this? Do you take special moments and bring God’s word to bear on the situation? I get lazy sometimes and don’t do it. But I try to always say something meaningful about God’s word, or from God’s word.

Your child will receive hundreds of gifts, many parties and privileges, and thousands of happy birthday wishes. Those are all good. But if you want to give your child something great and eternal, take hold of special moments like birthdays and speak into their lives truth from God’s special word. They may not remember exactly what you said, but I am confident they will remember that you thought they were important enough to give them the greatest gift of all – God’s life-giving word.

19 Marks of Real Community

authenticRay Ortland, a respected pastor from Nashville, Tennessee, unleashed a tweet-storm today about real, biblical community. Referencing multiple Bible Passages (1 Cor. 3:3; Romans 12:18; John 13:34-35; John 17:23; Philippians 2:2) about unity and love, Ortland, gave nineteen evidences of authentic, biblical community. After reading them I thought they were worth documenting as a diagnostic that any Christian could use to examine their own life and the health of their local church.

Ortland also mentioned Elton Trueblood who noted that “the Roman world had religion galore. What they didn’t have was community. The Christians did, and the world saw.”

Below are the tweets in the order they appeared. Read them and examine your own heart, and then evaluate the life of the church you are committed to, seeing if there is something you can do to honor Christ and love your brothers and sisters.

  1. Evidence of community: people hang out at church long after the service, enjoying one another.
  2. Evidence of community: people are careful to keep positive, relaxed, open relationships, quick to apologize and make things right again.
  3. Evidence of community: people respond to leaders with openness and trust, reasonable responses, not adversarial or aggressive.
  4. Evidence of community: prayer meetings don’t have long, awkward silences, but the people share a sense of reality with God and jump in.
  5. Evidence of community: no two-tiered justification, some above, others below, but all are equally dignified with inclusion in Christ.
  6. Evidence of community: people’s inevitable eccentricities are cherished as lovable rather than used as evidence against them.
  7. Evidence of community: the inevitable bloopers by the band are perceived not as embarrassments but as opportunities to relax and enjoy.
  8. Evidence of community: no need to be impressive, no grandiosity, but a settled confidence that Jesus is building something real here.
  9. Evidence of community: lots of laughter, when it’s right; lots of tears, when they are right. But no triumphalism at another’s expense.
  10. Evidence of community: conflicts and disagreements are pursued not with a desire to win but with a desire for the win/win.
  11. Evidence of community: people listen well, sincerely interested in one another’s thoughts, rather than demand a hearing for their own.
  12. Evidence of community: disturbing the community is so extremely distasteful as to be unthinkable. An awareness that this is sacred.
  13. Evidence of community: an awed awareness that every individual present has been sent there by Christ, entrusted by him to everyone’s care.
  14. Evidence of community: the confession of sin is perceived not as shocking or even risky but as normal and admirable.
  15. Evidence of community: the only competition is to outdo one another in showing honor, and everyone wins.
  16. Evidence of community: the manly men speak openly of their love and admiration for one another. No jokey put-downs. Deeply sincere.
  17. Evidence of community: everyone can’t wait for Sunday to get here.
  18. Evidence of community: disruptive people are not ignored but are confronted by the elders.
  19. Evidence of community: a big church feels like a small church. Warm-hearted belonging doesn’t require intimacy; it creates intimacy.

Which one(s) stood out to you. Where do you see yourself and your church excelling? Where do you see room for improvement?

When It’s Wrong To Raise Your Hands In Worship

worship

Why do people raise their hands when they worship? I don’t know. I suppose you would have to ask each individual what motivates them. And therein lies the most important issue: Why? Why do people raise their hands when they sing? The “Why” most certainly has a lot of bearing on whether an action is right or wrong; whether it is an act of true worship or a vain expression that may look like worship.

In the last two weeks I have been to two gatherings in which all of us were instructed to raise our hands. I did both times. The first time I did so because I wanted my son to see that I could be instructed by someone who was leading me to respond to God through Jesus with songs as a medium for honoring God. Still I wondered, “Why? Why should I raise my hands? And if it is a good thing, why don’t I do it all the time?”

The second time I did it because the guy who was leading us to worship through song actually told us what it might mean to do so. He suggested that raising our hands as we sang was a way to visibly express our need of God – our reaching out to Him for help. “Okay!” I thought. “I can go with that.” And so I raised a hand to express dependence.

Then today in my daily Bible reading I read Psalm 28:2: “Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.” 

Now I have read the Psalms (a hymn book of prayers) many times over, but this was the first time this verse stuck out to me. Here I now had a biblical text expressing a Spirit-inspired description (2 Tim. 3:16) of someone raising their hands in a song.

But what is the Psalmist doing when he raises his hands? Just a quick glance at the context reveals that the person writing (likely David) is in a desperate situation. In verse one he is concerned that unless God helps him, he will be like everyone else who goes down to the pit (dies). So he cries out and asks God to hear his prayer for help. He is desperate. He is needy. He needs God in a bad way. And the physical expression of that very pressing reality is the lifting of us hands toward God’s holy sanctuary, which represents the presence of God.

Perhaps a picture will further illuminate what it might mean to lift our hands when we sing to worship. Imagine a child has fallen off their bike. They have crashed and it hurt and they are desperate, and maybe they are embarrassed too. So they see mom or dad in the distance and they cry out and hold their arms up in a way that basically says, “Come help me. Come comfort me. Come rescue me. I have fallen and I need help getting up. I need you.” When we raise our hands in melodious prayer, we should be expressing our need of God who is our Father, and we are desperate for Him to rescue and comfort

Do you know what it means to do something in vain? It means to do it without giving thought to why you are doing it. I suspect many of us do all sorts of things in vain and meaningless ways. If we don’t know why we are raising our hands when we sing, then we are doing it in vain and it can’t be worship because “those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

There may be other biblical texts in the Bible that would help us know why we should and can raise our hands when we sing to worship, but now we can worship according to the truth.

 

Reflections on the Hard Love Sermon Series

hard-love

During the month of January we preached, taught, discussed and listened to five sermons on how a local church can love each other even when it is hard. And it is hard to love one another because we live in a broken world of broken people – people who are prone to wander away from God into sin.

Here are summaries for the five sermons:

  • Sermon 1: Jesus commanded (Matthew chapters 5-7) and did hard things (the cross). If we truly love Jesus, we  will obey all He commands (John 14:15 and Matthew 28:19-20), because we understand that He is trying to protect us and do good to us (Matthew 7:24-27). Love is wanting and doing what is best for others according to God’s word, and Jesus did hard love the best. If we love Him, then hard love we will do.
  • Sermon 2: Hard love is not just the job of the Elders and Deacons, but is the privilege and responsibility of every member of a local church (Philippians 1:1 and 4:1-3).
  • Sermon 3: Hard love is first and foremost an encouraging arm around the neck, not a just a pointing finger. The culture of our local church should be one of ongoing, informal, loving discipline so that we can be honest about the sin in our lives without excusing it (Galatians 6:1-3).
  • Sermon 4: There may come a time when one brother or sister has to start a formal process of church discipline if another brother or sister refuses to repent of their sin. After several steps of intervention, the so-called brother or sister may have to be treated as an unbeliever by the entire local church (Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). This is hard, but it is better to sternly rebuke a straying sheep than to let them be self-deceived (1 Corinthians 5:5). If they repent, we should restore them gently (Galatians 6:1-2).
  • Sermon 5: For hard love to work, we have to discipline ourselves to be in close relationship with other Christians so they can encourage us day after day. If we are not willing to be relationally vulnerable then how will others know how to speak truth-filled encouragement into our lives (Hebrew 3:12-14; 10:23-25)?

Reflections on the Hard Love Sermon Series:

  • We are striving to be a high-commitment church. I don’t mean this in a boastful way, or to be demeaning to other churches. But through the process of membership, we call people to be committed to Christ by being committed to His people in accountable relationships under the authority of God’s Spirit-inspired word. We do this because Jesus demands it for our own good (Colossians 3:15-16 and Hebrews 3:12-14). Jesus declares, without apology, that if any person wants to come after Him and have Jesus save their life, they must be willing to surrender their whole life to the One who gave His life for them (Mark 8:33-38). The way to gain your life is to deny yourself and be willing to give it all to Christ, and when you give your life to Christ, you become a part of His body through One Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-6). How can a person be be committed to Christ if they are neglecting the very body they are a part of? I think you know the answer. It is right and loving that we call people to be committed to Christ by being committed to a visible local church. I don’t know how you obey all that Jesus commanded without calling people to a formal commitment (See Matthew 18:15-17).
  • Our faith family embraced these hard love truths. Now the truth is, we will find out how much we trust and love Jesus when we have to actually do what we have He has commanded (John 14:15 and James 1:22). But the affirmation we have received from so many has been truly encouraging. There are many reasons this is such a hard pill for many professing Christians to swallow. For example, maybe some have been in church all their lives and never seen it done. Maybe others have seen it done really poorly. By the way, it could be done well and still not go well. Sin complicates things. Additionally, this whole idea of calling people to repent goes against the deeply entrenched belief that no one has the right to judge anyone else. Of course, if someone claims this, they haven’t thought much about their conclusion, because they have just made a very real judgment about how it is wrong to judge. We can’t live without making judgments, but we can strive to judge righteously (Matthew 7:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13).
  • It took us eight years to explicitly teach on this, but maybe that is for the best. I say eight years because that is how long I have been a pastor of Eagle Heights. I have been convicted for a long time that we need to involve the church if we were going to fully obey Jesus – provided it had to come to the final step of church involvement of putting someone out (Matthew 18:17). But as one of my seminary teachers used to tell us: “You need to teach before you reform.” Having said that, on several occasions the Elders have done most of Matthew 18:15-17, and as I told the church in sermon four, we once almost brought a guy to the church, but praise God, he repented. That instance and a few others made the Elders realize that we had to involve the church and explain that we must be willing to obey all Jesus commanded. It took us a while to get to this point, but now it has been explained and we need the whole church to be willing to pursue straying church members – if that is what it must be done.
  • I don’t ever want it to come to Matthew 18:17, but I trust Jesus’ words more than I trust the words of anyone else. None of our Elders enjoy wading into the entanglement of confronting a stray sheep and unrepentant brother or sister, but we have seen that there is sanctification in it and we have seen the joy of seeing a professing Christian repent.
  • I hope and pray more local churches will begin to pursue obedience to Jesus by practicing informal and formal church discipline. All that we do must be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14), but we cannot love God and wink at the very sin that sent Jesus to the cross. It is not loving to let people run headlong toward the destruction of sin. Yes, we must be careful not breed a culture of self-righteousness that nit-picks at every faith-fail and misstep, but we must call the church to the unrelenting pursuit gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered holiness. The church must be in the world, but not of the world. The church must be distinct in our love for the things that God loves, if we are to be attractive witnesses to the world. I remember distinctly an instance when a woman was telling another Elder and I the story of how her husband abandoned her and how she begged the leaders of their church to do church discipline on her straying husband so that he might bear fruit in keeping with repentance. I remember how she wept over the fact that they did not act and pursue him. That has stuck with me. I can’t shake that conversation. We may botch the Matthew 18:15-17 commands of Jesus, but it is better to have tried to obey Jesus and failed than to have failed by never trusting enough to try. We can’t live in paralysis because of the fear that something might go wrong. If someone is sinning unrepentantly, then something is already going wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right. We must trust and obey our perfect God and King who died for His imperfect body.

I thank God through Jesus that our church was teachable and willing to receive this. May we always be willing to hear the word of God and trust Him, no matter what hard thing He calls us to do.

A Tribute to Jenae Tilley, An AWANA Cubbie

(This is the message I preached in honor of Jenae Tilley who went to be with Jesus on Thursday, November 3, 2016. I share it to honor her and make much of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.)

“We are AWANA Cubbies, we’re happy all day long. We know that Jesus loves us, that’s why we sing our song. We hop because we’re happy and we jump and shout for joy! Jesus is a friend to us, He loves each girl and boy.”

jenaeJenae Tilley, the AWANA Cubbies leader for Eagle Heights Baptist Church, would have sang the aforementioned song an untold number of times over the years since she first began battling the cancer that ultimately took her earthly life. She would have sang it week after week to children who were ages three to five years. She would have sang it to children like my four-year-old daughter, who taught it to me.

Let me break this song down because I believe it embodies Jenae’s  winsome and difference-making life.

“We are AWANA Cubbies” AWANA means: Approved Workman Are Not Ashamed and is taken from 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Jenae was a 2 Timothy 2:15 Cubbie.

“We’re happy (joyful) all day long.” Again, she would have sang this over and over through good days and bad in her fight against cancer. Can there be any doubt that she meant it when she sang it? When I would see her, all I ever saw was joyful optimism. According to her family, she would say: “Don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t give up on me. God is not done with me and He is going to use my to make others believe in Jesus.” Jenae was joyful in the Christ who could use cancer for good. She trusted in the Jesus that made her hop and jump and shout for joy.

Her spirit was compelling and attractive and motivating. She was, and is, inspiring. She was the kind of person who could make you want to live and die well.

But how? How could she be so joyful and optimistic with so much life in front of her? She had a trip to Hawaii planned. She had a daughter who had not yet graduated from high school. She had another daughter who is to be married in July. She had her first grandchild on the way. How could she be so optimistic and joyful through the ups and downs of fighting a relentless disease?

The answer is in the song. “We are AWANA Cubbies, we are joyful all day long. We know that Jesus loves us, that’s why we sing our song.” There it is. There is the answer. She sang the song because she knew that Jesus loved her and does love her. Let’s keep going. “We hop because we are happy (joyful) and we jump and shout for joy. Jesus is a friend to us, He loves each girl and boy.” There it is again. She had joy in trial because Jesus is a friend who loves.

Some may wonder how a God who loves could allow a disease to take the life of someone who was loved so much. If ever you wonder whether the LORD God loves people, all you have to do is remember that God sent His only son to be ravaged by sin and death on the cross, that whoever believes in Him, would live forever, even if he or she dies (John 3:16 and 11:25-26). Jenae knew the love of Jesus. Jenae knew that Jesus was, and is, her friend.

Jenae’s favorite verse was Philippians 4:13. You know it. It’s on the Christian list of most-oft quoted verses. It also frequents t-shirts, mugs and wall decor. “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me.” But here is the secret to this passage; Paul is writing in the midst of trial. Most people won’t mention it because they probably don’t know it. Paul is in prison. Four times in chapter one, he reminds the Philippians he is in prison for the gospel of Christ, and if you read the verses (4:10-13) around verse 13, you hear Paul talking about contentment in the face of trial.

But not only can he be content in all circumstances, but he can be joyful in trial too. Paul is writing this letter from prison, but over and over again he talks about joy and rejoicing and gladness – like Jenae did when she sang the Cubbies song. In Philippians 4:4, Paul commands rejoicing. In 2:17-18, he speaks of being offered up like a sacrifice for the Philippians – sacrifices get hurt – and yet he says that he rejoices and urges them to do the same.

What on earth was wrong with this guy? Did he like pain and suffering?

What was wrong with Paul is the same thing that was right with Jenae. Despite her battle and affliction and trial, she had unwavering hope in Christ because she knew Christ loved her with his life and death.

What would Jenae say having now been in the presence of the one who made her sing, hop and jump for joy with little children every Wednesday Night? What would she say to us, having seen face to face the one who died for her sins and rose again, overcoming sin and death?

Jenae would say what she was already saying: “Don’t feel sorry for me. To live is Christ, but to die is gain and to be with Christ is very much better (Phil. 1:18-23). So join me! Turn from your sin and your own way. Turn to Christ and God’s way and trust the one who died for you and rose again, overcoming sin and cancer and death.”

Jenae’s life pleads with us to this day, to follow her example and know the love and friendship of Christ.

Jenae is in her lasting home with Jesus, which is far better. Won’t you trust in Christ so that you can know this Cubbie, Philippians joy, that Jenae knew and sang about? Wont’ you join her?