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Dec 31, 2010

Don’t Be a Christian Lone Ranger

In Mark 6:7 we read that Jesus sent out the disciples “two by two” to proclaim the gospel and preach repentance, to cast out demons, and to heal the sick. Then in Luke 10 we also read of Jesus sending out seventy-two others, again “two by two”, to preach and to heal.

What was the wisdom of Jesus to send out his kingdom workers in pairs? Why not send them out as individuals? After all, with so few disciples in the beginning, couldn’t God have reached twice as many sick and lost souls if he didn’t double up on his missionary teams? Couldn’t even spiritual giants like Peter, Paul, and other apostles fly solo? Did they really need the buddy system?

Of course Jesus knew what he was doing when he deployed his disciples in pairs, and his timeless wisdom still applies to us today. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, we read that “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”


I don't think the magic number is just two either.  Proverbs says there is wisdom in many counselors.  David had his best friend Johnathan, but also travelled and fought with his band of mighty men.  Even Jesus himself called Peter, James, and John to his side to be with him for both his greatest trials as well as his most glorious moments.  The point is, we need other men along side of us to best experience our lives as men of God.  Having a trustworthy friend and partner by your side has many advantages.  We need someone to count on, to rely on, and to share in the work to which God has called us.

For most of us married men, the first partner who comes to mind is our wife, and rightly so. Our wife is united with us in life, in ministry, and in our spiritual walk in general. In a good marriage, we experience and share everything of substance, good and bad, throughout our marriage and life together. This is a blessing from God. But as married men, we sometimes lose or neglect our ability and responsibility to foster close friendships with other men. Especially when we’re blessed with a wife who we can honestly call our best friend, we can fall into a comfort zone where our wife and children become our only close relationships and we lose the benefit of what other men could and should provide as well.

So men, don’t forget, God also has in mind that we share our walk and our work with other men. Jesus sent out his disciples, even the married ones such as Peter, with another man for a partner. There is something essential about sharing our lives and our ministry work with other Christian men. I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, but here are my top reasons for going out into the world “two by two” with other godly men.
  1. Protect and support one another.
  2. Encourage mutual development and sanctification, “as iron sharpens iron.”
  3. Rejoice in the triumphs and share in the burdens and trials.
  4. Complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. (Think Moses and Aaron or Paul and his missionary partners)
  5. Hold each other accountable; exhort one another in truth and love.
God never designed us to be lone rangers in the world. As I wrote once before, not even the Lone Ranger himself was alone. He fought evil and went through life with the constant support of a faithful friend by his side. And so should you and I. Pray today for God to bring other men into your life who you can partner with and become mutually accountable to. Step out of your comfort zone and engage other men in more than superficial talk after church about sports and politics. Follow the model our Lord gave to his disciples and strive to go out into the world “two by two”. God doesn’t expect us to be lone rangers.

Dec 23, 2010

Merry Christmas to the Children of Broken Homes

This is a picture of my sons on their last innocent Christmas before their world fell apart. They were only five and nine years old. Young enough that at least one still believed in Santa and both still believed that their parents would be happily married forever. Their only concern in the world was what they would find under the Christmas tree the next morning.

By the following Christmas, these boys had learned that their home and their family were going to be broken apart. Their parents had set them down in the summer to tell them that they were getting divorced. While the younger son eventually broke the thick tension with an awkward joke, “Yeah, double presents next Christmas!”, clearly both boys were just beginning to learn what it would be like to go through the rest of their childhood as children of divorced parents. There would never again be a Christmas, or birthday, or holiday not tainted by the family changes thrust upon them unexpectedly.

When I look at this picture of my sons from not so long ago, I see faces that now exist only in photographs and memories. My younger son, with his bright smile and handsome downturned eyes he gets from his French grandfather, doesn’t yet carry the sadness that came later after being pulled between two parents and two worlds that grew increasingly incompatible. My older son was still carefree and childlike, not yet carrying the burdens of having to defend his mom and reject his own dad. These are worries that no child should have to bear and which eat away at the innocence and joy of youth.

My sons have had it worse than many children of divorce. Not all divorced parents alienate their children from the other parent, forcing kids to make the unthinkable decision of which parent to love and which to reject. Not all kids get grilled every time they return from spending a little time with their mom or dad. Not all children have to hear a parent they once adored get disparaged, insulted, and disrespected in front of them – by their other parent. Some divorced parents actually try to co-parent and follow the rules for their children’s sake. Some divorced kids actually get to love and respect both of their parents even after they live in separate homes. Many children, even with divorced parents, still get to be raised in loving homes by both of their parents, and enjoy a relatively normal, happy, and secure childhood, despite the ending of their parents' marriage.

On the other hand, my sons have also had it much better than many children of divorce. Too often, kids are simply abandoned by one of their parents, who one day just leaves them to pursue their own life and to escape their responsibilities. Some kids know where their father or mother ran off to, others never see them again. Too many children are abused or have to witness one parent abusing their other parent even in front of them. Some children can’t visit or live with their mom or dad because their addictions or their lifestyle make it unsafe for them to be together. Many divorced kids go through the rest of their childhood, and their life, never again feeling the security of knowing that both their mother and father love them and are there for them.

My heart breaks for children who have experienced the curse of divorce firsthand in their lives. They have to deal with difficulties and hurts every day which other kids don’t. From the weekly inconvenience of living as nomads, travelling back and forth between two homes, all the way to the unresolved holes in their hearts from a missing parent, these kids experience the Fall of Man more than any child should. Christmas only makes these impacts worse for a child of divorce. We have more “visitation” schedules to coordinate, more family gatherings to attend or be absent from, and a more pronounced and unavoidable feeling of loss when relationships are still severed or strained.

But fortunately, Christmas is exactly the cure for these pains too. By Christ coming to earth and dying for our sins – the sin of divorce and all others too – we can finally have hope for restored relationships, forgiveness, and renewed peace and love. My Christmas prayer is that God will grant special grace on all the children I know who have had their lives impacted through broken homes.

So I’m praying for my niece and nephew and for their mom who is encouraging them to spend time with their dad who’s come this year for a visit. God bless my step-daughter’s friend who is willing to give her father another chance at Christmas even after all his addictions and failures. I pray for strength and wisdom for the wonderful teenagers in our small group who are still dealing with their parents' divorce. Merry Christmas to my two former students who now live all the way across an ocean from their dad.

And most of all, I pray for God’s grace and protection for my own children. Merry Christmas to my step-daughter, whose life between two homes can be hard but whose parents love her dearly and do a great job working together to raise her as best as they can. I’m thankful that I can now be a part of that effort too. And Merry Christmas to my own sons, wherever you are this year. I love you and miss you more than you’ll ever know, especially right now. You will always be in your father’s heart and I pray for God to bless you and keep you always.

Dec 19, 2010

What Do You Get For a God Who Has Everything?

As we’re all finishing our Christmas shopping this week, there’s probably that one last person you’re still shopping for because they already have everything. The toughest person to shop for is that man or woman who already has everything they would ever need. As challenging as that may be, what then can we offer to God who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” and in fact created and therefore owns everything in existence?

As I sat in church this morning surrounded by beautiful poinsettia plants, I remembered a story where I ran into a similar dilemma. Years ago I made a trip from Florida to the Washington D.C. area for some meetings at our division headquarters. While I was there, I also planned on getting something nice to take to our division secretary, Mary. This sweet lady arranged our travel, processed our expense reports, and provided all kinds of other assistance even for us remote employees way down in Florida. Since this would be my first chance to meet her in person, I wanted to arrive at the office with some nice flowers as a thank you gift.

When I arrived in D.C., I drove through town looking for a florist. Mind you, this was before the days of Garmin and Tom Tom, so finding a particular business while out of town was a challenge. I happened to find a florist, but since it was late December they didn’t have a very good selection of fresh flowers. So being determined to find Mary something nice, I pressed on in search of another flower shop. I finally stumbled upon a second shop, but they didn’t have any better selection of flowers. Then it dawned on me that I should just get a nice poinsettia plant instead. After all, it was almost Christmas, the plant would probably last longer than regular flowers, and they had plenty of nice plants to choose from. So I carefully looked over each and every one and selected the nicest to purchase for my gift.

I then drove to our office, parked my rental car, and walked into the tall building with my briefcase in one hand and Mary’s bright red poinsettia in the other. But when I walked through the glass doors into the huge lobby, my heart sank. Covering nearly every square foot of the building’s lobby were hundreds of poinsettia plants, even in the same pot and wrapping as what I held in my hand. What I had spent two determined hours to locate and purchase suddenly seemed all too commonplace.


Heartbroken but with no other option at this point, I still took my own poinsettia up to Mary and presented my humble gift to her with my appreciation for all she had done for us. Being the kind woman she was, she thanked me, protested that I really didn’t have to buy her anything, and then sat my plant down next to the other three poinsettias she already had in her office. Throughout the day, other co-workers who saw me arriving with my gift even teased by asking if I had just swiped a plant out of the lobby on my way in.

This reminded me of the effort we often go through to offer our gifts to God. While he asks for our praise, our obedience, our prayers, our tithes, and our service, we shouldn’t forget that while we may owe him everything, he doesn’t need anything. We can make a mistake when we bring our various gifts to God in order to earn something or to justify ourselves. There is nothing we can give to God which can ever atone for our sins, make us right in his judgment, or even repay him for the countless blessings we receive from him every day. In Isaiah 64:6, God even says "our righteous acts are like filthy rags."  It is only when we offer our gifts to him out of pure gratitude and faith that he mysteriously transforms them into pleasing aromas and worthy offerings.

If our sinful hearts were naturally inclined to obedience, God wouldn’t have given us the Law to define sin. If we weren’t prone to stray from his law, he wouldn’t have sent all the prophets to call us back. And if we weren’t utterly lost in our sins, and had any way at all to redeem ourselves, God wouldn’t have had to send his only son to die for the price of our sins. Only the gift of the righteousness which Christ earned for us can ever satisfy what we owe to God.

In this Christmas season, when we drive ourselves frantic and crazy trying to find the right gifts for everyone we love, don’t forget to pause and consider the greatest gift of all, the gift of salvation freely given to anyone who calls on the name of Jesus Christ as their Lord.

Dec 16, 2010

Humbled and Inspired by Greatness

There's nothing like getting kicked in the head by a 60-year old man (twice!) to keep you humble. It helps a little when that man was once an undefeated world champion kick boxer so famous for his lightning fast kicks that he still carries the nickname Superfoot. Even so, such an experience can go a long way in keeping your own pride in check, something most of us men could use at least occasional help with.

I was about half way to my black belt in karate the first time I got to meet and work out with Bill "Superfoot" Wallace. He was giving a sparring seminar at our karate school and at one point, asked me to get up and face off with him as he showed us some of his proven fighting techniques. As he addressed the class, he barely even looked at me. I was just his punching dummy for the sake of the demonstration.

I was well aware of who he was - the middleweight world champion in full-contact karate for six years with a 23-0 record, a 10th degree karate black belt, also an expert at wrestling and judo, an action movie star who’s fought on screen with Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, and the guy who taught Elvis martial arts. Heck, this was a guy who lost a testicle during a fight and saved it to show his friends! And now he was facing off with me.

I certainly knew who I was too. At this time I was only a lowly blue belt with just a few years of training. The only real fight I had ever had outside of sparring in my karate studio was back in 8th grade and I ended up with a black eye and bruised ego. And now I was toe to toe with a man who has never lost a professional fight and has a world-famous nickname for his left foot.

However, (and here comes the good part) I was trained how to block and how to spar, so when Superfoot threw up his first kick towards my head - in slow motion, just to demonstrate to the rest of the class - I reflexively put up my hand to block. I knew darn well I wasn’t really going to block his kick if he really meant to hit me, but my muscle memory took over and my hand went up. Well, that was apparently a mistake. Superfoot saw my hand go up and decided to make a big show of it in front of my fellow students and our instructor, a good friend of his for years.

"Oh, think you can block my kick do you," he teased. "You think you can shut down Superfoot Wallace, eh? OK, well let's see what you got!"

Though he was basically ignoring me before, I now had Superfoot's full attention, as he started bobbing back and forth, up and down, just waiting to strike. And I knew it was coming. I knew he was going to kick me and it didn't help. I knew exactly where he was going to kick me and it didn’t help. I even knew which kick he was going to throw, including the fake out move that he was teaching us, and it didn't help. I think he even yelled when he did it and it still didn't help.

Before I could raise my hand to block again, the same hand that had gotten his undesired attention in the first place, Bill "Superfoot" Wallace kicked me on both sides of my head. He had roundhouse kicked one side of my head and with the same foot still in the air, whipped around and hook kicked the other side of my bewildered head. As the class roared in applause and as my instructor laughed, I just stood in awe of a true master, who even at almost 60 could still show the speed, strength, and grace of what my chosen art was supposed to look like. It was an honor (and a relief) to finally bow to him and sit back down where I belonged.


From this humbling experience, I learned two things, and neither had anything to do with how to throw a kick or a punch. I learned the value of surrounding yourself with greatness - both in inspiration to grow and develop, but also in humility to keep grounded. Seeing what was possible in karate after years of hard work and discipline inspired me to keep going, to develop and learn, and to achieve my goal of earning my black belt a few years later. But being face to face with someone so much more accomplished also kept me humble, even as I progressed myself. As I moved along and eventually felt that I could take on any other student at my karate school, I still knew that my instructor could put me on the ground whenever he wished, and if he ever couldn't, he could still call his buddy Superfoot to come back and kick some humility into my head again.

As Christian men going through this life with a goal of ongoing sanctification, but with a constant need for humility as well, we would do well to surround ourselves with other godly men who have developed themselves into role models and examples of what we could hope to achieve. It does no good to compare ourselves to supposedly lesser men for the sake of self-pride or passive comfort. Keep the pride of your accomplishments in check by standing toe to toe with even better examples.

So you've been on a teen mission trip or witnessed to a friend at work? Before you think your part of fulfilling the Great Commission is done, come listen to the visiting missionary who has been shot at and lives in a Communist or Muslim country thousands of miles from the safety of America. You say you've studied your Bible and memorized a few verses. Good for you, but why not try learning now from someone who's been to seminary and studied those same verses in the original Hebrew or Greek. And even seminary graduates can still benefit from sitting at the learned feet of great teachers like R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and others.

There will always be examples of people who can both inspire us to reach higher goals and yet humble us to keep our pride in check. But it's up to us to continually surround ourselves with these examples. Seek them out, submit yourself to their instruction, and be inspired by their example. It's worth an occasional kick to the head.

Dec 14, 2010

Using Rock 'n Roll to point to the Rock of our Salvation

In a recent Sunday school lesson, we were studying the passage in John 1:51 about "the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." This is a reference to Jacob's dream in Genesis 28:10-17, but for me it also brought to mind two other references, admittedly from far less divine sources.  My mind strayed back to two rock songs I've heard many times, Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven and Jacob's Ladder by Rush.

For those of you who have listened to either song, you know the lyrics have nothing to do with the biblical accounts from Genesis or John.  However, at least their titles seem to have been inspired by the biblical story.  Perhaps for these secular song writers, the idea of a ladder reaching to Heaven at least sounded like an interesting thought to ponder, a poetic image to craft into a song title.  There are many other familiar references in our pop culture which originated in the stories and teaching of the Bible.  But how does this apply to us Christians who (we're told) aren't even supposed to know any Led Zeppelin or Rush songs?

If the apostle Paul is any example to us, these cultural references can be a natural launching point to witness to unbelievers, who are steeped in the world's culture without even knowing that much of it originates in the Bible.  In Acts 17:22-33, we have the account of Paul preaching in the Areopagus to the people of Athens.  He starts his discourse with a reference to a local altar to an "unknown god."  He then cites the words of three Greek poets and uses these references to teach about the one true God who created us and lives in us.  It didn't even matter that the Greek poets Paul quoted were writing their words of praise to the false god Zeus.  Paul was able to start where his audience was, with familiar references from their own culture, to begin a conversation that led them to the Truth.

When we Christians witness to unbelievers who may have never read the Bible, have seldom set foot in a church, and are certainly not familiar with the all the churchy lingo we love to use, why don't we follow Paul's example and start with what the people already know.  There are many reference from secular songs, movies, books, and works of art which can easily lead to a question or comment about a biblical truth.  And if the apostle Paul could be well versed with the pagan Greek and Roman culture for the sake of reaching his world, then let's not be too judgemental on those of us who know a few rock songs and have seen more than rated-G Disney movies.

Why not ask a friend next time you're 'getting the Led out' what they think a stairway to Heaven could mean, and show them how Christ, the Son of Man, is that path to Heaven.  Next time you're listening to that oldies station with your co-worker or family member and the Byrd's song Turn Turn Turn comes on, ask them if they know the lyrics came straight from Ecclesiastes 3 and maybe open it up with them to study the futility of their "life under the sun" as compared to a life with God.  Or the next time you watch one of the countless action movies with the sacrificing hero dying dramatically with outstretched arms (Platoon, Braveheart, Gladiator, etc.), turn the dinner discussion after the movie to how the one true Savior really did die for us and how he suffered even more on our behalf.

Nov 25, 2010

Waiting on the Mysterious Will of God

Waiting on God’s promises in the story of Esther

Recently, in Sunday school, we read and studied the wonderful story of Esther and how God once again saved his people from destruction. Though this is a familiar story, our teacher pointed out something which I had not fully appreciated before, yet which is extremely comforting for me to remember after recent events in my personal life. But first, to the story of Esther and today’s ah-ha moment. Our fine instructor and elder pointed out that the villain in the story of Esther, Haman the Agagite, was a remaining descendant of the Amalekites, the archenemy of the Israelites since the days of the Exodus when Amalek fought against Moses and Joshua. He also reminded us that God had cursed the Amalekites and had promised to wipe them out entirely at some point in the future. See Exodus 17:8-16 and Deuteronomy 25:17-19 where God twice promises to “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” Our instructor suggested that the hanging of Haman and his ten sons may have been the final fulfillment of this promise and the end of the Amalekites once and for all.

God fulfilling his promises and bringing his holy will to completion is not what caught my attention in this story. I fully embrace God’s sovereignty and know that what he wills he will also do. But what surprised me in the story of Esther and continues to amaze me in my own life is how God chooses to work through the hearts, motives, and actions of fallen humans to bring about his holy and good will for the world. In so many cases, God actually uses the sinful schemes and impure motives of men to bring about good for his people and the world in general. While we are all responsible for our actions and motives, God supersedes and uses them to accomplish his righteous will.

In the story of Esther, all of the characters involved displayed a variety of selfish, sinful, or at least, less than righteous motives for their actions. In just a mere ten chapters we read of pride, lust, rebellion, jealously, hatred, deception, boasting, plotting, murder, and revenge. Even the heroes in the story, Mordecai and Esther, seem to be guilty of subtle deception (not revealing that they are Jews) and possibly some bloodlust for revenge. At best, their purest motives seem to be self-protection and concern for the lives of their fellow Jews. What seems to be absent from the entire story, at least from my modern sensibilities, is grace, peace, and forgiveness.

Yet, it would seem that God uses every character in this story, every historical turn of events, even every apparent “coincidence” to finally accomplish something he had promised generations ago, to protect his chosen people and finally destroy one of their oldest enemies. This is one more lesson and reminder of the faithfulness of God’s word. He will keep all his promises and will accomplish all his sovereign will, eventually.

Remembering this is good, but where it gets tough for me is living in the midst of the story, not knowing how God is going to end it. All the events of Esther seem to take place in a relatively short period of time. After just a few dinner parties and secret meetings, the tables quickly turn on the villain and in great irony he ends up having to publically exalt the man who was snubbing him and ends up hung on the giant gallows he constructed in his own back yard to hang that same man he was trying to kill. On the larger scale, Esther and her uncle use their favor with the king not only to save themselves and their people, but to gain license to annihilate over 75,000 of their enemies throughout the kingdom. No one in Esther’s story had to wait very long to see God’s justice worked out in their lives.


Waiting on God’s will in our lives

But for most of us, we have to wait a little longer. We don’t quickly or as easily see God’s great plan for our lives and often have to endure injustice and trials indefinitely, waiting for the end of the story where we can finally see God’s will fulfilled. Sometimes, we don’t get to see everything resolved in our lifetime and may even die with questions unanswered and wrongs yet unresolved. We know and trust that God has it all under control and desires the good for those who love him, but we don’t always get to see how exactly he works it all out, certainly not in the timeframe we would desire. It’s in these in between times in our lives, while God’s final story for us is still being revealed, that our faith is most tested and yet most needed.

I’m still in the midst of a sad chapter of my life, and I have no idea how it is going to turn out. Last week, my 16-year old son, my firstborn and very beloved son, finally called me after not speaking to me for over a year and a half. While just hearing his voice was a relief and blessing, his reason for calling me was not. He was calling to tell me that he was moving to New York City to join a prestigious dance company and was asking me (demanding actually) not to interfere with or take away this “great opportunity.” He declared to me that he was now an adult and had every right to do what he wanted, without my interference. I know that while I may have a legal right as his father to object to this, and perhaps should, I also know from experience that I couldn’t get a court date for the next year and most likely wouldn’t get a decision which would prevent this. I also know that as I still hope and pray for restored relationships with both of my sons, interfering with their “dreams” of fame and fortune would only hamper those chances. So as much as I fear for my son’s best interests, his safety, and even his spiritual well-being, I reluctantly let him go.


Waiting on my prodigal sons

In the last few years I must have read the story of the prodigal son dozens of times. As my sons have been pulled away from me and eventually refused to see me or even take my phone calls, I have read that story for comfort and guidance. I’ve read it to see how the father dealt with a son leaving him and potentially even walking away from God. I’ve studied the story to see what else the father was supposed to do while waiting patiently for his son to return. I’ve also gained insight as to how to deal with the frustration of the child which remained. For a time I had one son staying with me while one was gone, and even today still have a step-daughter who deals with her brothers leaving her too and watching her step-dad trying to hold it together for her and her mom but knowing that I am heartbroken every day. But it wasn’t until this last week, as my beloved but headstrong and deluded son demanded my release to go off to the big city to seek his fortune and happiness, that I really understood how the prodigal son’s father felt.

Fortunately, while my story is not yet played out, God gave me this encouraging story in the scripture, complete with a happy ending. With that hope in mind, I told my son once again that there is nothing he could do or anywhere he could go that would change how much I love him. I assured him again that when he comes to his senses and realizes what he has lost, I will still be here for him with open arms and loving forgiveness. Until then, I look forward to the day when he returns to me and to God and I will declare, “he was lost and now is found!“

There is another profound and comforting word from God in Ephesians 1:8-10:
“With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
Yes, God’s will is mysterious at times, at least to our finite minds. We don’t always understand what he is doing in our lives and often struggle to see his greater purpose in our suffering. But I trust in my heart that “when the times reach their fulfillment” that my merciful and loving God will “bring unity to all things.” I pray that will include restoring the loving relationships I once enjoyed with my two wonderful sons, whom I still love and miss very much.

Sep 28, 2010

Speaking the Truth in Love

In a recent Sunday school class we were studying John 1:14 which ends with the statement that Jesus (“the Word”) was “full of grace and truth.” Other passages based on the same concept combine God’s truth with his mercy (See Gen 24:27, Ps 25:10, Prov 16:6), loving kindness (Ps 26:3), or longsuffering and goodness (Ex 34:6). For God, who is full of both grace and truth, full of mercy, infinitely longsuffering and good, and the very definition of Truth, this combination is not a problem and simply part of his incomprehensible and perfect nature.

But for us mere men, we often struggle to display or speak both grace and truth, especially at the same time. For us, this often seems like a choice between two contradicting options and thus we feel like we must make a choice between the two. We must choose between speaking the truth and speaking in love. Do we answer honestly or do we answer gently? Do we tell someone the honest truth or do we protect their feelings? Do we stand up for what we believe or do we keep quiet out of respect for the beliefs of others?

This dilemma was the basis of a recent GEICO commercial where they showed Honest Abe Lincoln struggling for an answer after his wife asked him if her new dress made her back side look big. As men, we often feel like poor Abe pulled between honesty and love, and not just when someone asks us for an opinion on their new outfit. How often do we struggle with speaking out over something on principle but having to worry about how we say it so that we don’t ruffle feathers or hurt someone’s feelings? Why does it seem so difficult to state an opinion without worrying about whose sacred cow we’re going to kill or how we’re going to offend someone?

So why is this such a struggle? Why can’t we more easily speak the truth in love? Why are some of us paralyzed into silence when we should speak up? Conversely, why do so many of us hurt people with our careless words when we finally do speak?

Surely this is just another impact of both our sinful hearts and our finite fallen minds. Unlike God, we often struggle with doing more than one correct thing at a time. It seems like when we finally build up enough courage to say what we should (truth) we blow it on saying it gently (in love). So instead most men just keep quiet so that we won’t offend or hurt anyone, or get in trouble. This again leads to a whole generation of “nice guys” who don’t stand up for anything and dutifully keep their mouths shut when we should be leading, teaching, and ruling.

It doesn’t help that our society is also teaching us that voicing strong convictions (speaking truth) is a sign of closed-mindedness, bigotry, hypocrisy, sexism, racism, homophobia, or any number of other evil labels meant to keep us silent and on the sidelines of public debate. In fact, the whole concept of objective truth itself is rejected by many in our culture, so who can even speak to what is true? Rational debate today quickly degrades to a heated emotional argument over whose subjective, personal opinion is more important or popular. Forget what is actually right! No wonder so few men (or women) speak up anymore for what they believe. We’re automatically called unloving by anyone who merely disagrees with us. Again, we’re taught that you can be either loving or truthful, but not both. Given the choice, our society today (and often the church too) seems to value getting along (a counterfeit form of love) over being truthful.

What was refreshing for me in my Sunday school was to consider that Jesus had no problem with what we find so challenging, combining grace and truth. The Bible assures us that Christ was both full of grace, mercy, and loving kindness and at the same time was also full of truth. In fact, Jesus was not just full of these attributes, but as God himself, IS each of these!

1 John 4:8 “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

1 John 4:16God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

1 John 5:20 “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ.

Rev 3:7 ““And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true.”
As God always displays his holy attributes in everything he does, he is able to be both true and merciful at the same time. When God speaks truth, he does so with love and grace. And in the power of Christ in us, we are expected to do the same. Ephesians 4:15 instructs us to speak “the truth in love, [so that we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ.”

As usual, this is easier said than done thanks to our lingering sin nature. Still, we need to follow the example and command of our Lord and not let the world or our past experiences control us. Don’t forget the power you possess with Christ in you, such that “with God all things are possible.” As men of God we need to be bold enough to always speak the truth, even when it’s not convenient, popular, or accepted. But as men of God, we also need to be loving, merciful, kind, and good, especially when speaking the truth. This is just one of the wonderful challenges we can tackle as men in our continual sanctification into the image of Christ. So man up and practice speaking the truth in love and don’t neglect either.

Aug 24, 2010

America's Broken Men

In an article on thetrumpet.com, titled “Why Won’t a Real Man Stand Up?”, Robert Morley details the growing fear and uncertainty in our economy and society and proves the point by citing that “doomsday shelters” are being constructed at the fastest rate in the last 30 years, dating all the way back to the last decade of the Cold War. Causes for this fear are said to come from a failing economy, faltering and untrustworthy government, endless wars, the budget deficit and national debt, unemployment, and even recent resurgence in racial tensions.

So what is the solution to these overwhelming problems? One potential answer offered comes from Paul Ferrell of the Wall Street Journal, who says it will take a feminist revolution to solve these issues. In fact, Ferrell is quoted as saying that “Unless women take control of Wall Street and America, ‘The End’ is near.”

Fortunately, Morley rejects this view as na├»ve and points out correctly that the problem is not that more women aren’t in high positions of leadership in our society, it’s that America's men are failing as men and as leaders.

But it is also a sad reflection of the state of true, righteous, masculine leadership in America today. Where are the real men? Gone are the leaders who stand up for right, for good—regardless of the political cost. Gone are the leaders who call a spade a spade because it is a spade and not because it is just politically correct. Gone are the men who lead on principle as opposed to polls.

Is it any wonder that America is falling apart so rapidly? It's men are broken.
Yes, in our society today, our men are broken and ineffective in so many ways. Our lack of authentic Biblical male leadership is not just destroying our homes, our churches, and our communities, but even our nation and society as a whole. Is the answer for more women to take the lead due to our failings as men, or is it time for us to stand up as real men and assume the leadership roles God created us to fill?

How different could our world be if the men in charge made decisions based on Biblical principles rather than expediency or popular opinion? Would our economy be in such shambles if more men leading at home decided that their family didn’t need that big house they knew they could never afford or didn’t look to other people and the government to provide for their family instead of filling their God given role as provider themselves? What if powerful men ruling our nations sought to turn the other cheek and spread the Gospel of peace throughout the world rather than trying to conquer it for profit and pride? What if the men thought of as leaders in their communities respected one another as children made in the image of God, rather than viewing each other according to color, language, income, or national origin? What if more dads at home focused on modeling and teaching values to their own sons and daughters rather than letting Hollywood, government schools, and their children’s peers mold them instead?

Yes, many of our men today are broken to the point of failure. Most of us are at least a little cracked or chipped even as we try our best to lead, serve, and love. But thanks to a Redeemer God who has given us all the instructions and examples for life we need, there is hope. We need to be broken, but only in spirit, as the Psalmist said, with a “broken and contrite heart.”  In practice, we broken men need to Man Up and assume our proper place as leaders in our world. Pray with me today for God to break us of our own sin and complacency, but then to build us up into the men He wants us, and the hurting world needs us, to be.

Aug 15, 2010

Are You a Safe Man?

When others describe you as a man, would they characterize you as safe? Is safe a word typically used to describe you? Do you think of yourself as safe? For that matter, should a man of God strive to be safe?

The answers to these questions probably depend on our definition of the word safe. If we define safe as dependable or trustworthy, then yes, we would certainly want to be safe. Any Christian man should be dependable, able to be counted on, and reliable. And all Christian men should be trustworthy and honest, a man of their word, letting their yes be yes and their no be no.

And of course, men should be safe in the sense of not being a danger or threat to their own family. I hope I don’t even have to address the issue of child or spouse abuse here because I doubt any coward prone to these crimes will be interested in reading this article. Still, any real man will obviously not only be safe himself, but provide a source of safety to those under his care.

But safe can also be defined as free from or carefully avoiding danger, risk, or controversy. A man who is always safe is no danger or threat to anyone or anything, no matter how much of a danger or threat is posed to him or to those under his protection.  A man playing it safe will avoid risk at all costs, even when risking it or stepping out in faith is exactly what he is being called to do.  A safe man will also avoid controversy, chosing instead to go with the flow, keep his mouth shut, and mind his own business.  But is this really what we want in a man?  Is this what a godly man should always strive to be?  Despite what may be encouraged in men today, I don’t think a man being safe is always what’s called for.

After all, Jesus, our model as the perfect man, was not always safe, at least not to his enemies and those who opposed him. Jesus challenged and threatened the wrong-minded religious leaders of his time, those leading others astray and away from God. Jesus battled spiritually with demons and Satan himself, handily defeating them and causing them to flee in fear. And let’s not forget that Christ was arrested, tried, and crucified because of his perceived threat to both the religious establishment as well as the Roman government.

Christ’s disciples followed suit themselves, continuing the spiritual battle throughout Israel and into the rest of the world. They risked every kind of danger in carrying out the mission they were left. Eventually every apostle and many other followers of Jesus found the same fate as their Savior and were persecuted not because they were too safe, but because they were not afraid of the danger, risk, and controversy in faithfully spreading the Gospel.

Maybe in our modern, mostly free society, we don’t have to risk arrest and execution to preach the Gospel, as believers did in the first century church – and as other Christians elsewhere in the world still do even today. So for us, what’s wrong with being too safe? Can this ever be a bad thing for a Christian man? Is being safe ever a vice rather than a virtue? When action and courage and risking yourself is what’s needed, then yes, being safe can be wrong.

I would hope that a would-be mugger would not look at you as a safe mark while you’re walking through the city with your girlfriend. Heaven help anyone who breaks into my home and threatens my family. Should a man’s wife think of him as so nice and “safe” that she shows him no respect and feels free to do whatever she wants without deference to his leadership? And my 12-yeard old step-daughter already knows that when she’s eventually allowed to date, any young man who doesn’t treat her with the utmost respect and honor will have to answer to me, and that I’m not entirely safe. Finally, when faced with defending their faith, a real man of God will not play it safe, avoiding danger, risk, or controversy, but rather will boldly proclaim the truth in the spirit of Peter, Stephen, and Paul.

Even God, who is called our safe haven, our salvation, and our protector, is not safe for all men. Look carefully at the often quoted Proverbs 18:10

The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
The Lord is indeed a strong tower, a source of safety – but only to the righteous, those He has graciously called to salvation. The unrighteous, or more precisely, the unrepentant and unsaved, would be foolish to look upon the Holy God as safe. They would be better off to go read Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

In emasculating and taming these wild creatures we call men, society (and sometimes even the church) has encouraged men to be safe, polite, passive, and non-confrontational over any other qualities. Yet a man of God, in the model of Christ and his fearless disciples, should probably put more focus on being righteous, bold, brave, and engaged. And at least sometimes, in situations which call for it, men of God even need to be dangerous. We should be so courageous, so dedicated to protecting our families, and so committed to glorifying God and protecting his holy name, that anyone who threatens our loved ones or dishonors our Lord should expect a response from us that is anything but safe.

What I just spent a whole article trying to explain was once summed up in only two lines by a much more gifted author. In C.S. Lewis’ classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the question is raised about Aslan the lion king, who is the archtype of Christ in the story. The question is asked whether he is safe. The beaver answers almost indignantly, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” Could the same be said of you?  As sons of Adam and follows of Christ, let’s focus today on being good men more than just safe men.

Jul 18, 2010

Do Real Men Cry?

When the anti-hero of Pink Floyd’s classic The Wall was finally sent to stand trial before a judge, the first accusation levied against him was that he showed his feelings.
Good morning, Worm your honor.
The crown will plainly show
The prisoner who now stands before you
Was caught red-handed showing feelings,
Showing feelings of an almost human nature.
This will not do.
In our society, we often struggle with the question of whether a man should ever show his emotions. Many would agree that "This will not do."  Some women wonder if their man actually can show his emotions. We ask, can real men cry, or are we expected to stoically go through life in full control of our emotions, or better yet, without any emotions at all? Does crying make us less manly, less masculine, less Godly?

In my family, we like to kid my younger brother about his seeming lack of emotions, at least the weepy sappy kind. We have a running joke that my parents had to pay for my sister’s braces so they couldn’t afford my brother’s tear duct implant surgery, and as a result, he’s never been able to cry.

Truth be told, real men can and do cry. If we can agree that Bible heroes like David, Joseph, Jacob, Jeremiah, Peter, and Paul were all Godly, manly men, then we have to conclude from Scripture that real men sometimes do cry. And if you’ve ever answered the Bible trivia question of what is the shortest verse in the Bible, then you already know that Jesus wept. The more important question than ‘Do real men cry?’ is ‘Over what do real men cry?’

Just like the similar questions of ‘Do Godly men get angry?’ or ‘Do Godly men fear?’, the important things to look at is what can move a Godly, otherwise strong and self-controlled man to tears? We should be asking, ‘When and why does a Godly man cry?

We don’t want men who weep and cry over just anything in life. We don’t need men who sob during chick flicks and sentimental love songs. There’s no place in an army for a wimpy man who cries in paralyzed fear. We need strong men who can control their emotions and hold it together when they need to.

But there are occasions when the Godly response of a real man is actually to weep, to cry, even to lose it. In the Bible, we see men visibly showing their emotions in many situations:

Anguish over their sin (Luke 22:54-62)

Anguish over the sins of others (Psalm 119:135-136, Lam 1:16, Luke 19:41-44, Hew 5:7-9)

Loss of a loved one (Gen 49:33-50:1, 1 Sam 20:41-42, 2 Sam 1:11-12, John 11:32-36)

Return of a loved one (Gen 43:29-31, Gen 45-46)

Death of a child (Gen 37:32-35, 2 Sam 12:15-23, 2 Sam 18:32-33)

Trials and suffering in God’s service (Psalm 6, Acts 20:18-19, 2 Cor 2:4)

In none of the passages cited above do we read of any rebuke by God for these men’s blatant show of emotions. We don’t see any apologies or shame from the men themselves after such emotional displays. We don’t even see anyone else mocking or chiding them for their embarrassing, undignified loss of control. No, it would appear that these Godly men in Scripture were allowed to cry, at least in the right circumstances.

Personally, I’m probably more sensitive and emotional than my supposedly tear-free brother, but even so, my emotions are usually shown in similar situations as those above. I’ve completely lost it over my sons, with both tears of joy and tears of anguish. The first time was when my oldest son was born premature, whisked away to the ICU before I could even hold him, and the doctor could not give us an assurance that he would even live. When I went home later that day, I cried my heart out in the shower and prayed the prayers of Job and David to spare my new son whom I didn’t even really know yet. Since then my eyes have swelled with tears of pride many times as both of my sons have performed and accomplished many things to make their dad proud. But in the last few years, I’ve also cried over and over for my sons who are now rejecting me and I fear, the Lord as well. When I remarried, and all three children were in our wedding, my wife and I read vows to the children, to express our love and wishes for them as part of this new family, and I couldn’t make it through the words, overcome with emotions from so many good and bad experiences related to them. I’ve cried out to God in repentance over my own sins, for intercession to save my first marriage, and now to bring my children back. I’ve cried over lost loved ones and for those left behind to grieve. I have wept in prayer and Bible reading when considering what Christ has done on my behalf and how good and faithful he is to me. I have been overcome with awe for God’s power and glory and when I look forward longingly to Heaven.

Just like when a normally quiet man finally speaks up, everyone listens attentively to see what he has to say, so it is with men and their emotions. A real man should normally be strong, steady, and controlled. So when he occasionally breaks down in emotion, determining the object of his tears gives you insight into his heart and soul. When you look at what brings a man to tears, you see a glimpse of what he values, who and what he cares for, and even how he views God.

A man who has never cried is a man who has never fully lived. He has not loved deeply or lost greatly. He has not fully dealt with his own depravity or fully considered the free grace of the God who can save him. A man who has not wept is a man who has not been fully human.

Nobody wants a man who cries at the drop of a hat, over sentimentality or superficial emotionality. No real man cries simply when he’s injured or afraid. Any man who does so is not much of a man. But a man who can’t feel and occasionally show his emotions over the right things is not a real man either.

As always, our Lord Jesus provides the best example for us to follow. There is no indication of Jesus crying or whimpering during his unbelievable physical torture, up to and including the cross. He took his undeserved punishment on our behalf like a man, as the expression goes. He didn’t fall apart in depression over the betrayal of his friends, being falsely accused, or any of his physical hardships in his life. Yet we do see our Savior weep. He cried when his friend Lazarus died. He cried over the lost sheep of Israel. And he cried in intercessory prayer for us! We would do well to follow our Lord’s example as men.

So yes, real men can and do cry. But watch for what and for whom they cry and you’ll see what kind of man they really are. Men, it’s okay to cry, just make sure you’re crying over something worthy of a real man’s tears.

Jun 18, 2010

Prepare for Your Calling

Do know what God is calling you to do with your life? If you’re fortunate enough, you may already have a sense of his calling, perhaps to a ministry or career choice, perhaps to raise a family, or possibly for some other specific service. However, if you’re like me and many other men, you may not know for a while where and how God may choose to use you. Either way, this is the time to be preparing for that moment when God calls you into action for a special task ordained just for you. The question is, will you be ready? What are you doing today to make sure you will be?

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned men of his day to prepare themselves for opportunity and future calls to service with these words.
“For every man there comes that special moment when he is physically tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing - unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.”
When we study the Bible we find several examples of men eventually called to serve God in some great way who were ready for their moment only because of the preparation they had completed earlier in their lives. In many cases, they didn’t even know how they would eventually be used, yet prepared for their future opportunities by faithfully fulfilling their earlier roles and learning from their experiences. David became a great warrior, poet, and musician in large part due to his years laboring for his father as a lowly shepherd. Joseph, after being sold into slavery, also served faithfully in many jobs and learned from each one so that by the time God eventually placed him in charge of all Egypt, he was ready and able to save both Egypt as well as his own countrymen. Finally, when the resurrected Christ called Saul of Tarsus to become the apostle Paul and preach the Word to the entire known world, he was able to use all of his knowledge of the Scriptures, his teaching ability, understanding of culture and philosophy, his Roman citizenship, experience with seamanship and navigation, and even his tent making skill to carry out all the various assignments which God had prepared for him.

You may not know how God plans to use you in this life. Even if you think you do, God may radically change the course of your life at some point, as he did for Joseph, for Paul, and for me. Either way, there are certainly things you can be doing today to prepare yourself for whatever God calls you to do. The question is men, what are you doing?

If you’re just rolling through life, letting the gentle waves of your job or school, your social life, and mindless entertainment just carry you along, consider focusing your time and energy towards preparing for the challenges which may be ahead of you. Since God is in control of your life and your future, and already has a perfect plan for you, the specific tasks almost don’t matter. What’s important is that you’re preparing for something.

For starters, there’s no challenge or calling in life which won’t be easier to face with a better understanding of God’s Word. So are you studying your Bible? Are you memorizing Scripture so that you can wield the Sword of Truth when you need it? Are you attending a Bible teaching church as well as a small group or Bible study so that you’re constantly being fed and growing in your knowledge of God’s revelation to you?

What about developing a useful talent or skill? Don’t worry, as I said already, God already knows how he’s going to use you, so don’t get caught up too much in which talent to develop. Besides, the kingdom of God can use almost any legitimate skill you may develop. God needs musicians, doctors, carpenters, translators, teachers, bus drivers, leaders, computer specialists, authors, electricians, artists, painters, lawyers, audio technicians, mechanics, nurses, counselors, and probably a hundred other useful skills. If God has given you interests, abilities, and aptitudes be sure to develop them to the fullest potential so that God can use them when and where he needs them.

Finally, make sure you’re constantly strengthening your faith, character, and personal witness. These will be the most useful assets you’ll draw upon no matter what God calls you to do in your life. Life itself tends to build each of these over time and often through trials, but watch for opportunities to grow spiritually so that you’ll be ready for whatever calling God has for you.

As a Boy Scout I learned to Be Prepared. If that advice is good for young boys going camping in the woods, how much more so for Christians entering the spiritual wilderness of this world, called to witness to it’s lost souls and faithfully serve God to our greatest ability. Don’t let laziness, complacency, or apathy today leave you unprepared or unqualified for the work God will surely call you to do in your finest hour. Man Up and prepare today for God’s calling in your life.

May 29, 2010

A Salute to the Last Men of the Greatest Generation

Years ago, on a business trip to Washington D.C., I visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial. On the evening I was there, I was fortunate enough to see a special ceremony where marines from the battle were being honored. One account really struck me as it was being read. The citation read that the marine being honored had "with rifle, grenade, bayonet, and eventually fists, valiantly fought off the advancing enemy" until he was one of the last men standing. That description painted a perfect picture for me of a tough, resourceful, and determined man fighting with whatever he had available to the very end. Even after he had fired his last bullet, thrown his last grenade, and buried his bayonet into an attacking enemy, he still defended himself with his bare fists and fought to the end.

I've never experienced anything like the bloody battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. I was in the Air Force at the very end of the Cold War, so all my military "battles" were fought from behind a computer terminal in safe and sunny Florida. Still, I grew up with a WWII veteran as my grandfather and role model and I think some of his spirit rubbed off on me. I should say I hope he rubbed off on me, because like most of the men of his generation, there was much to be admired.

Sadly, we are quickly losing the last members of the World War II generation. As of last count in 2008, there were estimated to be less than 2 million WWII veterans still alive in the US, and we're losing them at a rate of over 1,000 per day. It's estimated that the very last WWII veterans will be gone with in the next ten years.

These are more than cold statistics to me and my family. My grandfather, a Navy gunner who fought in the Pacific, died last November. My wife's father, an Army radio man who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate Nazi concentration camps, died two years ago. The picture below was taken of him with a local group of Battle of the Bulge veterans only three years ago. Sadly, I read this year that the same group has suspended their formal meetings because they are down to only four remaining members. We are losing these good men far too quickly.


When the men of that day were called to fight evil in the world, they quickly volunteered and left their families and homes to go fight on the other side of the world. And back then, we didn't just drop smart bombs or launch missiles from the safety of airplane cockpits and ship decks. Our men stormed beaches, parachuted behind enemy lines, and fought the enemy hand to hand.

While the men were gone, the women they left behind not only kept the country and their homes running without help, but they also picked up wrenches and welding torches and made the weapons and equipment that their men needed overseas. Perhaps most admirably of all, when the war was over, the men came home (those fortunate enough to survive) and once again became husbands and fathers and peaceful citizens.

I've been greatly inspired and influenced by the World War II veterans I've been fortunate enough to know. We can learn much about being real men from their example. Like I said, I have not had to fight in a war, as they did, but in my greatest battle in life, I tried to fight with the same resourcefulness and determination as the marine being honored at the Iwo Jima Memorial. In trying to save my first marriage and then to save my sons, I tried to use every available resource and never gave up. My story might have read, "fighting with the aid of counselors, pastors, elders, lawyers, judges, small groups, and eventually nothing but prayer..." In my personal Iwo Jima battle, I've run out of resources and am down to my bare fists of daily intercessory prayer for my sons. But like the marines, sailors, soldiers, and airmen of my grandfather's generation, I won't stop fighting until I'm dead or victorious.

If you are fortunate enough to still know someone from the greatest generation in our country, especially a veteran, I encourage you this Memorial Day weekend to reach out to them, show them your appreciation for who they are and what they've done, and to learn from their example. Take the chance while you still have it.



May 10, 2010

Decide to be Decisive


Being a real man will mean that you develop the ability and willingness to make decisions. Being decisive, when necessary and after appropriate reflection, is an admirable and useful trait in a man. As husbands, fathers, and leaders in our churches and communities, it will be something expected of you.  Your failure to be decisive when called upon can cause you (and others) great difficulties.

Women want a man who’s not afraid to make a decision. Girls like dating a guy who can pick a good restaurant on his own and wives sometimes need their husbands to take responsibility for family decisions. Children find security in knowing that someone’s ultimately in charge in their family, even if they don’t always agree with every decision made. Workers and citizens will follow a decisive leader acting with confidence and commitment. And God calls for men of action who will decide, then go. Every prophet, king, and apostle in the Bible was called to make a decision for God and then move into action with resolve.

So why do so many men flounder and fail to make decisions, even when they are asked to? I believe there are two reasons that account for most of the indecisiveness in men – fear of failure and a desire to be nice.

Most of us men have a deep seated fear of failure. We don’t always admit it and it varies in intensity from man to man, but most of us try pretty hard not to mess up in front of others. Because of this, we often see decisions as yet another opportunity to be wrong. What if I pick Applebee’s and everyone really wanted to go to Friday’s? What if I buy her a necklace and she really wanted a bracelet? What if I tell my daughter that she can’t date that boy with the mohawk and then she rebels even worse?

For Christian men, the desire to be nice and accommodating might paralyze us even more than the fear of being wrong. We’ve been taught in the church not to make waves, to be considerate to all, to put others before ourselves. When we’re married or dating, this gets reinforced even further, as we’re taught and encouraged to love our wives sacrificially, “as Christ loved the church."  Of course, these are all biblical teachings and not wrong in themselves. But many of us nice guys have failed our wives by allowing those sentiments to keep us from being leaders in our relationships. We may think that constantly telling our wives things like “Whatever you want dear” and “I don’t care honey, wherever you want to go” may be nice and thoughtful. In reality, these words of indecision may often leave our precious wives feeling unsure, unprotected, and uncared for. They may end up viewing their own husbands as the type of indecisive, unsure man described in James 1:6-8.
...the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Think I’m making too much of this? Still not sure what’s wrong with a man letting others decide everything or making no decisions at all? Can’t see how letting your wife make all the important decisions could be anything but undemanding and nice? From my personal experience, I can tell you that there can be a great cost to being indecisive and weak. In large part because of decisions I failed to make, failed to stick to, or failed to make in time, I lost the respect and submission of my first wife, I allowed my sons to go down a path leading to shallow ungodly lives, and I brought misery and heartache upon myself that still burdens me to this day.

So am I telling men to make all the decisions, control everyone around them, and insist on their way all the time? Am I encouraging men to make rash decisions and snap judgments without thinking or seeking other’s guidance? Of course I’m not.

Before a godly man makes any decision of consequence, he should first do all of the following:
Then, after you’ve prayed, thought it through, asked others for advice, and submitted your will to God’s – get off the fence, make a decision, and take action!

And by the way, in case you think you can somehow avoid failure or disappointing others by not making a decision, just remember the Rush song which tells us, “And if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”  There’s still a cost to not deciding, since you’re essentially deciding to keep things exactly the same by doing nothing.

The Greek historian Thucydides once considered the courage required to make tough decisions and then to act on them. He wrote “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

So Christian men, size up what’s before you, man up and make a decision, then go out and face the world with confidence. Better to be decisive and risk being wrong than to remain ineffective and paralyzed by indecision.

Apr 16, 2010

Let Not the Mighty Man Boast

Last week in church, a passage was read from Jeremiah 9:23-24 which caught my attention as it relates to my ongoing encouragement to Christian men to be more manly.
Thus says the Lord: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord."
As I'm encouraging men to be bold, to have courage, and to man up for God, I have to give a word of caution and explanation too. Yes, I believe our present generations of men need to be more manly in a Biblical sense and yes, I'm citing examples of men who are brave, strong, and capable. We need more men who are heroes and role models, men who command respect, even men who are feared, at least by those who oppose them in battles between right and wrong. But this Biblical encouragement has to come with a warning from the Bible too.

Brothers, as you develop your strength and confidence as a man, don't fall into the sin of boasting in your own strength. Don't brag or even allow inner pride in your capabilities or accomplishments. Yes, men, strive to man up and become Mighty Men for God, but "let not the mighty man boast in his might."

There's already enough self-centered machismo and arrogance in the lives of many men. We certainly don't need to encourage this idolization of men's physical strength and false bravado. I even saw a Christian men's conference where they brought in big body builders and guys bending frying pans with their bare hands. I'm not sure what that's supposed to prove to Christian guys trying to figure out how to be authentic men of God.

Remember that pride has always been our most prevalent and deadly sin, especially for men. Most men are naturally prone to be at least a little prideful. We don't ask for directions, we don't need anyone's help, and we don't easily take advice. Some men have a hard time saying sorry or admitting they're wrong. We would rather give advice than listen to someone else's ideas. We're competitive and we like to win. We all secretly love our medals and trophies, whether literal or figurative. This causes problems for us at work when we have to report to our "idiot boss."  We may struggle in our marriage when our pride won't let us listen to a woman's opinion or advice, even our own wife's. We sometimes frustrate our children when just because we're the father and head of the house, we think there must only be one way to do things and everyone else just needs to listen to us.

As with most things, our challenge is to find balance. As men, we need to balance our God given roles of leadership, headship, teaching, protection, and provision with those of humility, service, understanding, and grace. One key to accomplishing this is also found in the verses from Jeremiah. If you look closely, it doesn't tell men never to boast. It only tells us not to boast of our own might. Instead, we're told to boast of God and his strength in our lives. As the old praise song goes, "Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord."

Jeremiah tells us that when we boast, "boast in this, that [God] understands and knows me." And when we boast in God, we should also emulate him and pursue our identity as men by modeling ourselves after God, "who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth." Why should we do this? "For in these things I delight, declares the Lord."

God delights when we too show steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. But if you've learned anything about being a man yet, it's that it often takes quite a mighty man to steadfastly express real love, to fight for justice, and to actively pursue righteousness. For most of us, we're still on the long growth path to becoming men who delight the Lord in these ways.

So men, continue in your quest to become and grow into Godly, real men. Your wife and children, your church, and your world need mighty men of God and fewer wimpy Christian nice guys. Go right ahead. Strive to be like David's Mighty Men or Jesus' inner circle of Peter and the Sons of Thunder. But as you develop yourself into a mighty man of God, one who may be respected, admired, feared, and followed, don't fall into Satan's trap of boasting in your own might. Boast instead in the power, grace, and love of God, from whom all blessings flow and to whom all glory is due.

Apr 10, 2010

Are You Man Enough to Say NO?

One of the greatest single causes of problems in my life, some of which I’m still suffering fallout from today, was my failure as a man to say one simple word – No. If only I had used that wonderful little two-letter word more often, when it was the right answer needed at the time, I may have avoided many heartaches, frustrations, and sins. If only I had been man enough to say… No, I shouldn’t do that with her. No, I better not look at that or go in there. No, we don’t need to buy that. No, we’re not signing my sons up for that.

The first problem with saying no is that saying yes is usually so much easier. Saying yes often takes less backbone than saying no. Saying no requires strength, courage, will power, and conviction. Saying no can mark you as unpopular, difficult, controlling, or worse. The old saying may go that ‘Nobody likes a Yes Man,’ but my experience is that the world likes a man willing to say no even less.

The second problem with saying no is that so many others in our lives expect us to keep saying yes, even when we shouldn’t.

Children want to hear Yes you may have that or go there.
Bosses expect to hear Yes we can do that.
Pastors love to hear Yes I’ll volunteer for that.
Wives and girlfriends hope to hear Yes honey, whatever you want.
Our own bodies beg us to say Yes I’ll have some more of that.
Even our government increasingly demands to hear Yes you can have more of my money, yes I’ll vote for you again no matter what, and yes I’ll submit and hand over my last rights and freedoms.

Despite the draw to always say yes, there can be great advantages to saying no once in a while. Saying no to some things allows you to say yes to more important things. Saying no preserves honesty in relationships. Saying no is often what is needed to protect and prevent abuse. And most importantly, saying no for the right reasons is Biblical and part of being a godly man.

Consider the teachings of the Apostle Paul in Titus Chapter 2. Here we see some very wise instructions to men which we should all memorize.
“Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.”
“Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned…”
After similar instructions to younger and older women and even slaves, Paul sums up the teaching with this sound advice.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives…”
As godly men (and women), we need to say no to much of what is offered to or asked of us in this world. That certainly includes all “ungodliness and worldly passions,” but may also mean some things which are just unwise or not what’s best for us. This may sometimes require saying no to others whom we love or respect. We may even have to say no to morally neutral or even worthwhile things which, while not sinful, may still not be in our best interest at the time.

Here are some examples of when we might need to say no.
Are you man enough to give these kind of answers?

No, I don’t need that to look cool or fit in.
No thanks, I wouldn’t like to super size that for only 39 cents more.
No, let’s not see how fast this thing will go.

No, I won’t work on Sundays.
No boss, we can’t make that delivery date, but we can…
No thanks, I’d rather not serve in that ministry, but I do feel led and better equipped to serve here.

No son, you can’t watch that show or buy that CD or go to that movie.
No my sweet princess, you are not wearing that miniskirt and half-shirt out of this house.
No, everyone else is not doing it, and neither are you.
No, you may not date my daughter. You have no education, no job, and you wear more makeup and tighter jeans than she does.

No dear, we’re still paying off the last vacation, maybe we should wait a few weeks before going away again for the weekend.
No honey, the children are already overcommitted and so are we.

No, I won’t submit to a search without a warrant.
No, I won’t vote for you just because you’re the lesser of two evils.

No, all religions are not the same.
No, I will not bow down!

So what about you guys? Do you sometimes struggle with the courage to say no too? Where have you had to say no in your life? Where should you have answered no but didn’t and what did that cost you?

Please leave a comment with your examples. Just don’t start saying no for the first time by not answering this request! Thanks.

Mar 29, 2010

Real Dogs and Wimpy Men

Would you believe that our modern society may be more concerned with helping our dogs reclaim their true nature as real dogs than we are with the identity crisis of human men?  I wouldn't have until I saw an advertisement from Alpo for Real Dogs.  It's actually a cool ad campaign and I love the concept.  They have a series of TV commercials showing pampered dogs getting bubble baths or dressed in silly little skirts with a slogan warning to "Get that dog some Alpo!"  A page on their web site states that "Real dogs drool and dig.  They strut their stuff, mark their turf, chew things up, and roll in dirt.  They eat and sleep with supreme gusto."  They even have a Real Dog Handbook, a how-to manual for dogs who have "lost their inner dog-ness."

Great concept, and yes, like I wrote earlier about my mouse catching cat, I think many of our dogs have not been allowed to be real dogs.  Case in point, one of my two dogs.  I have a real dog.  My wife and step-daughter also have a dog who needs some help sometimes finding his inner dog-ness.  I'll let you figure out which is which below.




But what about us men?  Does anyone care about us reclaiming our nature as real men?  What's more of a danger to our world after all, pampered pets or wussified men?  Don't we need to worry about us men, or just our over-domesticated dogs? 

To answer this with a big dose of irony, let me show you something.  I first came across the Alpo Real Dog campaign through a contest I saw on a NASCAR website.  There was a link for the Real Dog contest and ad at BrandWeek.com.  But when I first hit BrandWeek.com, a (supposedly) random pop-up ad flashed onto my screen for another event they were sponsoring.  Here's what I saw when I was just trying to enter my tough bulldog in the Real Dog contest I found while reading about stock car racing :



This is an ad for the inaugural Gay & Lesbian Consumer Conference, an event designed to help "300 brand marketers, creative officers, media executives, and entertainment moguls" "win a stake in the $700 billion gay and lesbian market," estimated at over 15 million individuals and which the Wall Street Journal called a "dream market."

Wow, how our world has strayed from God's laws.  What Scripture refers to as sinful, impurity, degrading, a lie, shameful, unnatural, indecent, and perversion - all in just two verses of several addressing the issue in the Bible - our society sees as a "dream market" of affluent, double-income-no-children customers to be marketed to.

So you tell me, with all the attacks on authentic, Biblical masculinity in our society, do we need a campaign for Real Dogs or Real Men?  Quick, get that man some Scripture!

Mar 19, 2010

Whose Man Are You?

As men, we seem to carry as many labels as we do responsibilities. Our lives are a constant balancing act between often conflicting priorities and demand on us in our many roles. Our character is tested by how we juggle these demands while trying to stay true to what we really consider important. What we call ourselves (or what others call us) helps to identify us, define our priorities, and distinguish us from other men who may choose to go by different titles. But when we settle on a single label, it also defines our primary role or our main priorities.

So what kind of man are you?

Are you a family man or are you a company man?

Do you dress and act more like a college boy or a working man?

Does the old Styx song Blue Collar Man remind you of yourself or just those guys down at the construction site? Do you follow Lynyrd Skynyrd’s call to be a Simple Man?

Maybe you see yourself as a ladies man? Or are you such a manly man that even your buddies at the gym consider you a real man’s man?

Hopefully you’re not known as a mamma’s boy. And even Christian guys rarely want to be called a choir boy. Don’t be a girly man or Hans and Frans will have to “Pump, you up!”

Useless Trivia Fact: Did you know that the term G-Man, slang for an FBI agent, originally came from the label of Government Man? Well now you do.

There are many labels we may wear, but what do they really say about us? If we look at the dictionary definitions of some of these terms we’ll see some key concepts that might explain what labels convey about us.

A family man is “a man devoted to his family and home.”  
   Nothing wrong with that, right?

A ladies man is “a man who strives especially to please women and to attract their attention and admiration.”
   OK, maybe not the highest calling for a man, but not too dangerous.

A company man is “an employee whose allegiance to his employer comes before personal beliefs or loyalty to fellow workers.”
   Warning Will Robinson, warning!

Notice the concepts in these definitions of allegiance, devotion, and loyalty. There’s also the idea of striving to please a particular group of people. These ideas relate to our focus and priorities.

So when you willingly (or unwillingly) take on one of these labels, you’re stating something about your life’s purpose and priorities. You’re telling the world what you as a man find important and who you’re trying to please.

With that in mind, is there any label that you would rather wear than Man of God?

However you want to phrase it - men of God, Godly men, or as one ministry calls them, God Men - these men have the following traits defining them:
  • Their ultimate allegiance, loyalty, and devotion are to Jesus Christ alone.
  • They put pleasing and obeying God above pleasing all others, including themselves or even those they love.
  • Their identity is found in their Christ likeness and their self worth is counted by the price that Christ paid to save them from their own sins.
  • Their priorities in all aspects of life are centered on their world view as fallen but forgiven sinners, redeemed and restored disciples, and graciously saved and sanctified new creations in Christ.
That’s a Man of God!

So how do you want to be known? What label best identifies you to others?  In other words, whose man are you?

And whose man am I?  As imperfect of an example as I’m sure to be, I’ll simply strive to be God’s man, that’s who!