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Nov 5, 2011

Holding Out For Your Proverbs Woman

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Prov. 31:10)

To all the single guys reading this, do you have a picture of the type of woman you’d like to marry some day? Or fathers of unmarried sons, what type of woman are you hoping your son will meet and someday take as his wife? Have you ever considered what the ideal woman would be? Did you know that God left us a description of what he considers an excellent wife?

This is probably not a surprise to most Christian woman because a look at the woman described in Proverbs 31 is a very common topic for women’s Bible studies. But guys, you’re missing out if you’ve never really studied the ideal woman described in Proverbs 31.

Take a quick read today of Proverbs 31:10-30. Consider God’s standard of a godly woman and see how it matches up to what you’re looking for. Ask yourself how “precious” a woman with these qualities would be as a wife.
  • Trustworthy (v. 11)
  • Respectful of her husband and seeks his good (vv. 12, 23)
  • Hard working, industrious, not lazy (vv. 13-15, 19, 28)
  • Good at business (vv. 16, 18, 24)
  • Keeps in shape (v. 17)
  • Charitable (v. 20)
  • Cares for her family, provides them food and clothing (vv. 14-15, 21-22, 27)
  • Strong, dignified, and optimistic (v. 25)
  • Wise and kind (v. 26)
  • Respected by her children and her husband (v. 28)

Wow, that’s quite a list. I know many women who are intimidated by this mythical, ideal woman. They feel like they can’t possibly measure up to such a lofty standard. But I think there’s something worse than godly women setting their standard so high and sometimes feeling that they can’t quite reach it. What’s worse is how many Christian men set their standard of a godly woman so low and settle for much less.

I’ve seen too many guys fall head over heels for a pretty girl just because she looks good at the beach or has nice hair. We’ll assume she’s a committed Christian just because we met her at church or at youth camp. Guys will laugh off a young girl’s irresponsibility and laziness as cute and funny. We don’t bother looking for depth or character or values as long as she laughs at our jokes or likes our car. And then ten years into our marriage we wonder why we don’t respect or value our wife and why we’re not quite as infatuated as we were before we married her.

Notice a couple things not on the list God gives us from Proverbs, which the world values more than it should. You won’t find a mention of good looks, attractive build, sense of humor, or charming smile. Don’t get me wrong, these things are valuable to a point and part of what makes a man attracted to his wife, as any casual read of Song of Solomon will confirm. And those of us blessed with beautiful, charming wives are thankful and love them for those traits too. But look at the concluding verse of this chapter to see how God puts those qualities into perspective.
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (v. 30)
It breaks my heart to know so many godly young women who love the Lord and strive to model themselves after the Proverbs women, who are women of character and wisdom, yet are overlooked by guys who seem to be after something else. These women are lovely on the inside and the outside, yet are still patiently waiting on God to bring them a godly man for a husband. I can only blame us immature guys for setting our standards too low and not holding out for a woman worthy to be praised.

Trust me, as someone who once valued the wrong things in a girl and overlooked glaring deficiencies, I was eventually disappointed, dishonored, and betrayed. When I was mercifully given a second chance, I set my standard much higher and have been incredibly blessed with “an excellent wife.” Guys, do yourself (and your future children) a great favor and set your expectations a little higher. Hold out for a woman of depth and character, who will be a trustworthy and honoring wife to you, a wise and hard working mother to your children, and above all, a woman who fears the Lord, not just for the first pretty face in a short skirt who agrees to go to the movies with you. Let’s trust God and hold out for a woman “more precious than jewels.”


Oct 20, 2011

Keeping Watch

It’s almost Halloween again and nearly every amusement park in Central Florida is hosting their annual over priced haunted beer fest. I remember being at one of these events a few years ago, killing two hours in line waiting for my 5 minute barrage of zombies, chain saws, and strobe lights. I was with my wife, my brother, and his wife. While we were in line, walking back and forth past the same people over and over, we kept passing what looked like a potential problem.

In the next line, slowly passing us every few minutes, were three guys and a girl, who obviously had way too much to drink. Each one displayed their inebriation differently. The girl and one of the guys kept making out. The really big guy was just loud and obnoxious. But the little guy was the one who worried me. He was one of those drunks who just stares at people, with a glazed look that basically shouts, “Hey, what are you looking at punk?” Every time the group was passing by us, the little drunk just silently stared down either me or my brother.

Whenever we were near this group my brother and I made sure we were between them and our wives. Other than that, we just tried to mind our own business and avoid direct eye contact, especially with the little tough guy. Before we reached our long awaited haunted house, they eventually got into a heated argument among themselves and some other friends. Not knowing how far the argument was going to go and how it would escalate, we just kept a watchful eye on the group until they calmed down and walked off.

After our pass through the haunted house we took a break and I talked to my brother. I asked him if he had a plan in case those guys tried to start a fight with us. He said “of course” and told me exactly how he pictured the two of us handling those three guys if we had to. The cool part was, I had been thinking the same thing and had almost the exact same game plan in my mind. Without even speaking to each other, we had both been watching the crowd and were ready to defend ourselves and our wives if the drunk guys started any trouble.

All we were really practicing was what is called “situational awareness”; being aware of your surroundings, keeping a watchful eye out for danger and threats, and having a plan of action when it’s called for. Fighter pilots, police officers, and athletes all use situational awareness. A pilot scans the sky for other aircraft and threatening weather, keeps an eye on his gauges and instruments, and has a well practiced plan ready for any emergency. Law enforcement officers look for anything out of the ordinary, size up people and situations, and keep themselves protected so they can continue to protect others. And the best athletes aren’t just the fastest and strongest, but the ones who can read a lineup, anticipate their opponent’s next move, and consistently put themselves in positions to make the big play.

Christians are called to be aware of their situations too. We need to keep watch, read the world around us, and be ready for action when it’s required. We’re told to look out for the enemies around us and resist them. Peter warned us to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him.”

Jesus told both his followers and his enemies to watch for his return. He told us to “Be on your guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”  He even rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for being able to read the weather but being clueless about the spiritual world around them, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

Christian men should wake up and be aware of the world around us, both the culture we live in and the spiritual climate of our present age. We should always be on guard and mindful of our ever present enemies – the Devil, our own flesh, and the world – and resist their enticements, protecting ourselves and our families. And we should be men of action, ready with a plan of attack when the battle comes to us, even ready to jump into the fray on our own to battle evil in the world.

Here are just a few things to keep a watchful eye on, that a strong godly man should be aware of and ready to confront.

• The influence and draw of the culture in “the present evil age.” What evil is the world trying to make acceptable, to push on us and our children, to get us to excuse and overlook? Are you not aware of the prowling lion and his forces trying to turn us and this world from God?

• False religions trying to gain acceptance or even legitimacy as just another flavor of Christianity. What false gospels are gaining ground in the culture and even in “the church”? Can Biblical Christianity really “coexist” with false gods, idolatry, salvation by works, man-made religions, new age humanism, and science fiction?

• Eroding freedoms and liberties in our society and the increase of authoritarianism and government control. When will we finally stand up for our God given rights and say no to the powers who only wish to control, enslave, and kill? When the state no longer acts as a “servant of God” but rather in the “spirit of the antichrist” will you still submit?

• Love of this world over our Heavenly home. Do we still get too wrapped up in the futile things of this world, “chasing after the wind” and laying up treasures on earth? Or will we spend our precious time and strength pursuing the eternal things of God and furthering his Heavenly kingdom?

So men, keep watch of what’s all around you in this fallen world. Be aware of the situations we live in every day. Like in my Halloween story, there are enemies pacing back and forth, staring you down, looking for a fight. Like any enemy, they sense weakness and indecision, or even better, ignorance. Don’t be the mindless antelope in the nature videos, happily lapping up a cool drink at the local watering hole while the hungry crocodile lies in wait only inches away. Be aware. Be ready. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

Aug 12, 2011

Playing Hurt

Sorry for two NASCAR stories in three weeks, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to comment on one of the gutsiest performances I’ve seen in a long time. 27-year old NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski was injured during a scary crash testing his car at Road Atlanta. His brakes went out and his car slammed straight into a concrete wall at 100 miles per hour. He was air lifted to the hospital with a fractured ankle and other injuries.  The remarkable part of this story is that only four days later, Keselowski not only drove with his fractured ankle in the greuling 500 mile race at Pocono, he won!

Keselowski's destroyed race car after crashing into wall

Fractured ankle after Atlanta crash and
4 days later before winning at Pocono

A heroic effort to be sure, as Pocono is one of the longest races of the year, and unlike most NASCAR tracks, requires drivers to shift gears multiple times on every lap, along with heavy breaking in the corners. Keselowski had to man up to drive his car despite his injuries and intense pain throughout the race. To make things worse, by the end of the race his right hand was also bleeding from an open blister from shifting for nearly four hours. While some drivers may have understandably called for a relief driver, Keselowski stayed in his car and brought home the victory for his team.

Brad Keselowski joined a long list of tough race car drivers and other pro athletes who had the guts to play hurt. My favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt, was once injured in a 200 mile per hour crash at Talladega where he hit the wall head on, flipped over, was hit by another car in his roof and windshield, and caught fire. He broke his sternum, collarbone, and ribs and burned off half of his famous mustache, yet walked under his own power to the ambulance waving to the crowd. Two weeks later, driving injured with only one hand, he set a new track record qualifying first on the demanding road course at Watkins Glenn and after leading much of the race, eventually finished in 6th place.

So what did Keselowski have to say about his gutsy effort that ranked him among the sport’s toughest iron men? “I’m no hero,” Keselowski said humbly. “The heroes are the guys that died in Afghanistan this weekend…They’re my inspiration for this weekend, the things that those guys do. I’m glad that we could win today, but those are the heroes. I just drive race cars for a living.”

Performances like these are inspiring and show what a tough man can do when he has to push aside the pain to do his job. But men have to learn to play hurt in other ways too. Real men keep going to the job they hate because they know their family is depending on them. Loving men still listen patiently to their children and their wives when inside they may just want to scream after a tough day and escape in front of a ball game or in their workshop. Godly men still go to church and serve their Lord even when their spiritual tank is empty and they think they have nothing left to offer God or their fellow man. Strong men still pray for their enemies or those who have rejected them, even when their heart is broken.

As usual, Christ is our role model as a man. No man has suffered or endured more than Jesus. During his life on Earth he was often exhausted, misunderstood, scorned, mocked, falsely accused, and rejected by his own family. By the end of his short life he was betrayed by one of his own disciples, falsely condemned by a corrupt government and religious hypocrites, denied by one of his closest friends, abandoned by most of his followers, and was whipped, beaten, and tortured. Knowing fully what he would have to endure, he was “very sorrowful, even to death,” “being in…agony…his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Yet he willingly sacrificed his very life in a brutal death on a cross so that we could have eternal life.

Guys, if Jesus could set aside his glory and his rights, endure abandonment and rejection, and suffer unbearable physical pain for the sake of those he loves, then can’t we man up to take care of our loved ones? As athletes, soldiers, rescue workers, and others learn to play hurt for the sake of others, shouldn’t we be able to do the same? Ask God today for the strength to finish your own race without giving up.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”  -  Hebrews 12:1-3

Aug 5, 2011

110 Things Every Man Should Know How to Do

Part of being a man isn’t just who you are and what you believe, but also what you can do. Men should be men of action, ready to handle anything that may face them. Or as the Boys Scouts say, to Be Prepared. So are you prepared to tackle the jobs, the basic tasks, and the emergencies that may come your way as a man?

As a starting point, check out this list from Popular Mechanics where they list 100 Skills Every Man Should Know. Read through them and ask how many you know or how many you’ve already done or would be prepared to do (that is, without reading the instructions first). Don’t feel too bad if there are several skills you don’t know. Unfortunately, we’re not our grandfathers, who could probably do most of these things and would find the idea of making a list for us to review just silly.

We live today in a disposable and dependent society where we just replace things when they wear out, call a professional when we need something done, and spend most of our lives indoors or at least in the safety of civilized society. But I contend that these manly skills are still good to know. We should be men ready and able to change a flat tire for a stranded old lady, to protect our families from all kinds of threats ,to be good stewards of our resources by maintaining and repairing as much as we can on our own, and as Christian men, to lead our families and be bold witnesses for Christ.

Change a tire

In fact, I thought of ten more things I’d add to the list;

1. Earn a living (Get a job!)

This should be obvious, but for many in the next generation it looks like this isn’t a given. Read 1 Timothy 5:8 if you’re still not sure.

2. Defend yourself and your family.

Take a self-defense class, learn to use a weapon, and stay in shape. You never know when you may have to fend off a mugger, a drunken idiot, or even a stray dog.

3. Identify venomous snakes and poisonous plants.

Know what snakes can kill you and which plants not to touch.

4. Train your dog.

An untrained dog can be a nuisance or even a danger. Train your family dog so that they are a welcome addition to the family and so they know their place in the pack. Your pet will feel more secure and your family will be happier and safer.

5. Rescue a drowning swimmer.

Not as easy as it sounds, but you never know when a total stranger or your closest family member may need you to save their life.

6. Know what other religions (really) believe.

Did you know that those nice Mormons think they can become gods and populate other planets or that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers? If not, maybe you should take a class or read up on what other religions really believe.

7. Give a credible defense of Christianity.

“Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 3:15

8. Share your personal testimony of God’s grace in your life.

Remember, testimonies aren’t just for former drug addicts and criminals, we all have one. Learn to share yours boldly and effectively for God’s glory.

9. Preach the word.

Faithfully proclaim God’s word to the best of your ability, to others or at least to your own family. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2

10. Train your children.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

So how prepared are you as a man? See a few things you could learn by taking a class, watching a video on the Internet, or asking a handy buddy of yours? I did pretty well but had a few things on the list I don’t know. I need to learn to weld and make beer (but probably not at the same time!). Why don’t you make a personal goal of tackling a few of these you don’t know how to do? If you’re a father, how about teaching your son one or two of these next weekend? Maybe he can even teach you a couple.

Finally, leave a comment on what you’re going to work on, what you’ve learned after reading this, or what other essential manly skills were left off the list. I’d love to hear about your journey too. And ladies who read this blog for men (and I’m glad you do), tell us guys which of these skills are most important to you and which other things you think we should know.

Jul 31, 2011

Relevant Prayer or Abomination to God?

Last week for the first time, I was embarrassed to be a NASCAR fan. No, not because I’ve spent more than twenty years watching a bunch of good ‘ol boys drive stock cars in circles every weekend. I was embarrassed because of the flippant irreverence of a pre-race prayer given on national TV by a Baptist pastor. This was the invocation delivered by Pastor Joe Nelms before the NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Nashville on July 23.

So first of all, so as not to be a hypocrite, let me acknowledge that I have a worldly sense of humor, am often irreverent myself, and watch plenty of TV shows and movies that many of my Christian friends would probably not approve of. I’ve certainly watched the movie Talladega Nights several times, which was clearly the inspiration for this pastor’s light hearted prayer. And I’ll even admit to laughing during the scene with Ricky Bobby’s irreverent family dinner prayer.

 The difference is, the movie was clearly a piece of comedy, not a real prayer offered by a real pastor before millions of spectators and TV viewers. The movie was written to openly mock the self-centered and carnal attitudes of so many athletes who conveniently thank God for their victories and their material rewards (but never the trials of their defeats). They selfishly call on the name of God to invoke his blessing but think nothing of sincerely glorifying the Lord, asking for forgiveness, or calling others to repentance. Anyone watching Talladega Nights understood this listening to Will Ferrell’s ridiculous prayer or the ensuing demand of his materialistic wife to “do this grace good so that God will let us win tonight!”

"We just thank you for all the races I've won and the $21.2 million dollars. Whoo!"

So why was I so disturbed by a similar public prayer before a NASCAR race? Because the man who delivered the prayer was an actual Christian pastor and the invocation was supposed to be an actual, sincere prayer to the real and true God of Heaven. In my opinion, this prayer was a mockery for the sake of being relevant and funny, but in the end only grieved God and God’s people who understand the power, purpose, and practice of real biblical prayer.

Perhaps already anticipating the objections he was likely to receive, Pastor Nelms began his prayer with a statement that God told us “in all things give thanks.” I’m assuming that he was referring to Ephesians 5:20 which encourages us in “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But if you read that verse in the context of the entire chapter of Ephesians 5, you will fail to find license to mock God and thank him flippantly for frivolous, worldly things simply for the sake of entertainment or to pander to the crowd. In fact, Ephesian 5:3-4 even warns against “foolish talking” and “jesting” so that “it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.”

I’ve always been proud of how NASCAR, even in this day of forced religious “tolerance”, still opens each television broadcast before every race with the national anthem and a public prayer, even ended most times “in Christ’s name” or “in the name of Jesus" (but never with the ridiculous Boogity Boogity Boogity thrown in).  I’ve always found this especially appropriate for an event where the competitors can be seriously injured and even killed at any point throughout the day. I’ve seen at least a dozen drivers and crew men killed or permanently injured in NASCAR races just since I’ve been a fan. So praying for the safety of the drivers, pit crews, and even the spectators would be an appropriate request to submit to the all-powerful and merciful God.

But wouldn’t you have to do this in reverence in order for God to honor this request? Hebrews 5:7 tells us that Jesus himself offered such prayers to his Father but notice why his prayers were heard. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”

God is an all-consuming fire. He is Holy Holy Holy, exalted in heaven before all of his creation. And he is not to be mocked or approached without the utmost of reverence. Prayer is a form of worship. Prayer is humbly approaching God’s throne with praise, confession, and petition. Prayer, especially a public prayer offered by one of God’s own ministers, should be offered with this in mind.

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28

“Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’” Leviticus 10:3

“God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.” Psalm 89:7
Please Pastor Nelms, if NASCAR gives you another chance to lead millions in prayer, remember that the true believers in the audience, those humbly bowing their heads in reverent prayer, don’t care about things as petty as Dodges and Toyotas, which brand of gas their drivers are using, and certainly not your “smoking hot wife” when they are coming into the Lord’s presence before a race. And remember for the sake of all those unbelievers in the same audience, your job is not to make people laugh and be relevant, it is to point the lost to the true Savior and to glorify and honor your holy God. If not, remember the warning in Galations 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

Jul 16, 2011

Where Did I Go?

At the advice of Brett Clemer from Man in the Mirror I made a goal this year to post to my blog more often, even on a more or less regular schedule. But you may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything lately. I’m sure no one has their life on hold just anxiously waiting for my next insightful blog entry, but still, I ask for your patience.

We’ve had an unusually busy couple of months, both with blessings and trials, and these have kept me occupied and away from my web site. I’ve been trying to help my wife Michele who lost her mother and has been handling the affairs of her late parents’ estate. I also just finished the largest project at work I’ve had in at least six or seven years. And there have been still more days when events related to my sons and my former life have surfaced again and sapped my attention, my time, and my energy. But thankfully we also got to spend a refreshing week in the Smoky Mountains on vacation, have completed some overdue home improvement projects, and are enjoying our summer with friends and family.

Maybe most importantly, I’ve also managed to get outdoors by myself a few times to reflect and pray. I find kayaks, mountain bikes, and hiking boots especially good tools for escaping life’s business and getting alone with God. Sometimes we just have to go through more of life before we have anything new to say. I’ll be back to writing soon enough. Thanks for understanding.

May 6, 2011

5 Ways to Man Up For God

If we are to be men of God, we need to follow the biblical standard given to us, and not let the world define what it is to be a man. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he encouraged them with a great 5-point sermon (in only two sentences). This is great advice for any Christian, but I think especially for men as we try to figure out how to man up for God.

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
This sums up what it means to be a man of God so well that I’ve used it as the key verse for this ministry.
Five clear admonitions, but five challenging goals to actually achieve in practice. Let’s unpack these simple but wise directions for us.

1. Be on your guard. Other translations word this as, “Be watchful.” We need to be ever alert to many things in life which can bring harm to us and our families. We should be standing guard over our families, our friends, and our church. Godly men in leadership should be the first ones to notice heresy, false teaching, legalism, or the world’s ungodly influence in the church. We need to guard ourselves against temptation. Jesus also tells us to be ready for his return, to “be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”

2. Stand firm in your faith. Men should have a strong backbone, especially when it comes to our faith. There may be wisdom in compromise, in some situations, but not in matters of faith. My greatest disappointments in life came in large part from my failures to stand firm when I should have. I wish I had considered these words by Robert Cooper,
“It’s easy to act as if you are a weathervane, always changing your beliefs and words, trying to please everyone around you. But we were born to be lighthouses, not weathervanes.
The apostle Paul again instructs us, this time in Ephesians 6:12-14
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
3. Be courageous. Interestingly, the ESV translates this phrase as “act like men.” Men are called to have courage, to be brave. This doesn’t mean fearless, but rather to have the courage to move forward and do what’s needed even in the midst of fearful situations. We’re told in Joshua 1:9 to “be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." When a man has the Lord with him, he can have the confidence to say “that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

4. Be strong. A man’s strength can be an asset or a deficit, depending on how he uses it and from where he derives it. Many men focus too much on their physical strength even to the point of idolatry and some so-called men even abuse others through their advantages in strength. But a true man of God finds his strength in the Lord and is not just physically strong, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Remember, “it is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure” because “the name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”

5. Do everything in love. It doesn’t matter if a man is strong, brave, and watchful if he doesn’t act out of love. In fact, for many of us men, when we get all pumped full of courage, boldness, and strength, the first thing that gets sacrificed can be our love towards others. It’s good to remember that “love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way.” Men are called to lead, to teach, and in some cases to rule. In these roles we sometimes forget to be patient and kind with others. We must be careful not to be arrogant and insist on our own way.
“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Apr 29, 2011

Know Who You Are

The ancient Greeks told us to “know thyself.” Throughout the centuries men have struggled to figure out who they are--both to themselves and to the world. Many have offered suggestions of how to do this. Gandhi recommended, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Entertainer Pearl Bailey suggested, “You never find yourself until you face the truth.” For Christians, facing the truth means seeing ourselves in light of the one who called himself “the way, and the truth, and the life.” Throughout the Bible, godly men have come to grips with who they are, especially in relation to God.

Companies have mission statements. Men should have identity statements. In the movie Gladiator, the hero gave this bold statement of who he was to the Emperor of Rome himself:
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
Yes, “Vengeance is mine…says the Lord,” so I can’t fully endorse his last line, but still, that’s a pretty clear statement of who he is and why he’s here.

God himself makes his own declarations of his identity. In the Old Testament God told Moses, "I AM WHO I AM," and that he should be referred to as “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

This continued into the New Testament when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter wisely answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Finally, in Revelation, Christ announces of himself, “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” and “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

We as mere men should also know who we are, even to the point of being able to put it into words. When we can clearly and succinctly express who we are, we can establish our true identity in Christ and affirm our God given purpose and priorities. Our biblical heroes knew who they were and gave us some great examples of this.

David told King Saul, “Your servant has struck down both lions and bears…the Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” After seeing God, Isaiah confessed, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

When asked who he was, John the Baptist answered, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’...I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie...for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

The apostles clearly knew who they were and what purpose they were given. Paul claimed to be “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” and “a prisoner for Christ Jesus,” who believed “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Peter referred to himself as “a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” Jude considered himself “a servant of Jesus Christ” and James took the title of “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So Christian man, if someone were to ask you who you are or what your purpose in life is, how would you answer? Would you simply give your job title from work like we often do? Would you identify yourself as someone’s son or husband or father? Or would you tie your whole identity and purpose to your Lord and King? Consider following our biblical examples and come up with an identity statement of your own. Repeat it to yourself, offer it to God in prayer, and be ready to declare it to others who want to know who you really are.

Apr 22, 2011

Sacrificial Love

Who would you be willing to die for? Would you give up your life for someone else? If so, for whom and under what circumstances? Have you ever really thought through these questions? Sometimes we throw about expressions too easily like “I would die for my country” or “I’d take a bullet for you, man.” But do we really consider what it means to willingly sacrifice our life for another and if we might actually be willing to do such a thing?

Paul considered this in his letter to the Roman church. In Romans 5:7 he notes that “one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die…” Not to give mankind too much praise for our selflessness, he only begrudgingly acknowledges that we might die for someone, but only if we consider them a good person. But how far would our love extend to others?

Most of us can picture dying for our closest loved ones if called to do so. What loving parent wouldn’t jump between their child and a wild animal about to attack them? Wouldn’t most husbands use their own body as a shield if someone pulled a gun on his wife? And of course, soldiers, police officers, and firemen willingly endanger themselves for strangers every day, but even they try hard to avoid dying in the line of duty.

But have you noticed that you can’t get a heart transplant from someone until they die? There just aren’t enough living donors willing to give up their beating heart so someone else can live. Even in the movie John Q, where Denzel Washington’s character was willing to do exactly that to save his young son with a failing heart, the other characters debated wildly whether he was crazy over his child or just plain crazy. What was so touching in that movie was that someone was actually willing to die so someone they loved could live.

The sad truth is, most of us would not be willing to give up our lives for someone else except in very rare circumstances, and most likely only for those closest to us. We barely even offer our time or service or possessions to our fellow man, let alone give our lives to them. Whether due to our fear, selfishness, or apathy, most of us aren’t likely to sacrifice our lives for others.

On this Good Friday, thank God that he didn’t let any such barriers keep him from giving himself for us. Thank God the Father for being willing to sacrifice his only Son in order for us to be with him. Thank Jesus Christ that he didn’t let his own fear, his rights to his place in Heaven, or the temptations of men and the devil keep him from willing laying down his perfect life to pay for our sins. Ask the Holy Spirit today to help us appreciate what was done on our behalf and remind us of who we are as a result. Paul continues in Roman 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Sometimes we might lose our appreciation for the sacrifice Christ made because we don’t apply it personally. After all, Jesus came to pay for the sins of the world, right? We say this as if his sacrifice is somehow less remarkable, like almost anyone would give up their life to save millions. But don’t undervalue the sacrifice God made for us. The death of Jesus was the most unjust and undeserved death in history. His humiliation, betrayal, abandonment, and pain were unparalleled. And the love that he showed for us was beyond what any sinful human, even the most loving parent or spouse, could ever muster at their most unselfish best.

And don’t forget the most important part. Even though the blood of Christ is applied to many, it’s still applied to you as an individual believer. When Jesus prayed for his elect in the garden, he was praying for each one of us given to him by the Father. When Jesus hung in agony on the cross, he paid for each and every sin for every one of his sheep. When we face our final judgment and our names are called out, Jesus himself will defend each of us who have called him Lord and declare our sins are forgiven thanks to his loving sacrifice on our behalf.

The Kutless song “Sea of Faces” reminds me of this too. Consider these words today as you thank Jesus for the sacrifice he made for you personally.
If only my one heart
Was all you'd gain from all it cost
Well I know you would have still been a man
With a reason
To willingly offer your life

Apr 15, 2011

Enemies Larger Than Our Apathy

I heard an interesting lyric in a song on my new Mumford & Sons CD. I’m not really sure what the rest of the song means, but this line got my attention.
“If only I had an enemy larger than my apathy, I could have won.”
Wow, an enemy larger than my apathy? Sometimes that’s a tall order, given how often I go through life without caring enough for what I should. What could be an enemy large enough to draw a fight out of me, to pull me from my apathetic slumber?

Don’t get me wrong, most of us are pretty good at creating or finding enemies in this world. Even if we’re not angry enough to murder others in our heart, we all have at least a few favorite targets on our enemies list. We have our enemies to gossip about, complain about, work against, avoid, or ignore. Who are yours?

Maybe it’s your boss or that co-worker who mistreats you. Perhaps it’s a mother-in-law or crazy uncle you can’t stand. For others our enemy is the opposing political party, those liberal Democrats, those fat cat Republicans, or worse yet those crazy Tea Partiers and Libertarians. If nothing else, even the nicest, most sanctified guys still have a favorite sports team to root against.

Our problem as men isn’t that we have enemies, as if fighting or standing in opposition is automatically wrong for Christians. The problem with all these so-called enemies is that none of them are large enough to warrant the energy and passion of a godly man in the Lord’s service. We need larger enemies to fight.

Throughout the Bible, most of our manly heroes had enemies to fight against. David had his Goliath and all the enemy nations surrounding Israel, Sampson fought the Philistines, and Moses squared off against the mighty Pharaoh. In the New Testament, Jesus contended with the Pharisees, Paul the Judaizers and false teachers, and the rest of the disciples had to defend their very lives from the Jewish and Roman leaders. In fact, the Bible begins with our forefather Adam losing his first battle with Satan but ends with the New Adam, Christ, defeating Satan once and for all. Everything in between, including our lives, is caught in this great battle between Good and evil.

So why do we waste our time and energy on family squabbles, yelling at the guy who cuts us off on the highway, that ungrateful boss, or our rival ball team. Weren’t we called to fight against bigger enemies than these?

As Christians, our three most obvious enemies, and most present and persistent, are the Devil, the world, and our own flesh. We could exhaust ourselves just fighting these three – and we should. Paul also warns us in Ephesians 6 that we wrestle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.”

So where do we find these kind of enemies in our world? Where would a warrior in the Lord’s Army find enemies of this caliber, worthy of Paul’s charge to Timothy to “wage the good warfare” and to “fight the good fight of the faith?” If we take our eyes off of our worldly struggles for a minute, I think we can find plenty to fight for if we just look with God’s perspective.

Isn’t the ongoing evil of abortion worth fighting against? And at the other end of life, will we let our elderly be cast aside when they are no longer considered useful but rather a burden? Shouldn’t we contend against false doctrine and heresy in the church? What about combating the moral decline in our culture? Are you willing to lose your children to the world without a fight? Do you consider poverty, sickness, homelessness, and fear something to combat throughout this world? Will we just submit like mindless sheep as the powerful of this world strive to take away our last freedoms? Is even the holy name of our Lord worth defending?

If you commit yourselves against enemies like these, and fight in the power of Christ, you may one day be able to echo Paul’s words, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Enemies such as these can pull us out of our apathy and into the battle. The song I quoted in the beginning of this post is called “I Gave You All.” That should be our daily goal with God when it comes to committing ourselves to his service, and especially when picking our enemies.
"And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." - Mark 12:30

Apr 9, 2011

Daily Decisions and Detours

Making Daily Decisions

Journalist David Brinkly once said, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” I apologize for not writing lately, but I’ve been dealing with more bricks being thrown at me. I’m trying to be a successful man by Mr. Brinkley’s definition, but lately I’ve mostly just been ducking and waiting for the next volley coming my way. I finally looked up and realized I haven’t posted anything here in over three weeks.

At my lunch Bible study this week, I heard something that helped snap me back into action with purposeful joy in my ongoing walk. At our FUEL men’s group, Pastor Jay Austin concluded his lesson with a statement that got my attention. He told us that “Life is not a destination, but a series of daily decisions.” He shared how he had reached a peak in his career and ministry success fourteen years ago. He said that for him, if he viewed those accomplishments as God’s sole purpose and destination in his life, then his life was over fourteen years ago! But instead, he now sees his calling as serving the needs of his wife and children, shepherding those in his church, and reaching out to people he meets in the community all around him.

For me, this statement struck home as it applied to how I have viewed so much of my purpose and calling as my sons’ father. But as I’ve written previously, my opportunity to act in that role on a daily basis was finally taken away from me almost two years ago. So Pastor Jay’s challenge to me would be, if I viewed God’s calling and sole purpose to be raising my boys, then my life would be over, or at least indefinitely on hold.

But praise God, my life is far from over! I am blessed with a wonderful wife who somehow loves me for just who I am. I have a wonderful step-daughter who needs me and makes me feel like a father. As I have grown through my trials I’ve also been given a new calling on my heart to help other men in their growth as men of God.

But sometimes, when I can’t help but be overwhelmed by missing my sons, or worrying about them, or getting angry over various situations, it takes a daily decision on my part to accept what has happened, to be thankful for my new life, and to fully embrace the joys and new challenges God has placed before me.

Detours, U-Turns, and Rest Stops on Our Road Through Life

When we take trips and use our navigation system in the car, we start by plugging in our final destination. Once the route is computed, I’ve learned to trust our electronic navigator and follow it’s directions one turn at a time. Every so often, it tells me to turn down a road I didn’t expect. I thought my route was straight ahead, but it’s telling me to turn. Over time, I’ve realized that by this little device knowing about hazards on my route like accidents and traffic, I can usually trust it to get me to my destination by the best and safest route.

If God will pardon me for comparing his providence to a satellite navigation system, I’m sure we can trust God to direct our life more than the most expensive Garmin or Tom Tom. For one thing, God knows our final destination in life and has already programmed it for us. And he knows the best path to reach it, including all the pit stops, detours, and side roads we may have to take for us to reach that goal fully equipped and sanctified, ready to do his will with our lives wherever he takes us.
"In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:6
Sometimes we still question God when we’re not sure where he’s taking us. When my wife first got her GPS system and was still learning some of its advanced features, she tried plugging in multiple destinations along a single route. At one point along the way, it directed her to make a U-turn. A block later, it told her to turn around again. After going down the same road a third time, it sent her back again. She finally realized that the system was taking her right to the first address she had entered but it wasn’t telling her to stop there so she kept driving right by it.

Sometimes we can make the same mistake in trying to follow God’s path for our lives. He has a final destination set for us, but he also has lots of stops scheduled along the way where he intends for us to learn something, gain some needed wisdom or maturity, or maybe just rest for a while. But if we’re not alert and open to God’s leading, we might keep driving right by that important waypoint in life, too focused on what we perceive as our intended destination. When we do, God may send us a U-turn and take us right back to where we need to be until we’re ready to move on. Remember, what may appear to us to be a detour is more likely just the next turn in God's perfect plan for our lives.
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Prov 19:21
A wise friend of mine just suggested to me that when we don’t reach our goals on the schedule we expected, it may be because God isn’t done with us where we are. In these times, we would be wise to make a daily decision to embrace our lives where God has placed us, learn all we can, serve others around us, and glorify God through our gratitude, joy, obedience, and daily dependence on him.

Mar 4, 2011

Hero of the Day

I have a new Christian hero today.  I've always liked this guy, but he did something this week that impressed me even more about him.

Morgan Shepherd is a NASCAR driver who was in his prime back when I first started watching racing in the late '80s and early '90s.  Today, he's 69 years old and still racing.  Throughout his 40 year professional career as a driver, he has always been very forward with his Christian faith and has used his public career as a race car driver to help the less fortunate and to spread the Gospel of Christ.

While in Las Vegas this week, shopping at the local Wal-Mart with his wife, 69-year old Morgan Shepherd chased down and caught a 15-year old shoplifter!  How many of us much younger men might have just stood by and watched two shoplifters running from the police and security guards?  Not Morgan Shepherd.  He chased them down, caught one, borrowed some hand cuffs from a police officer, and cuffed the kid!  And his only regret?  He didn't think he witnessed to the young man enough.  Now, that's a man of God.

Shepherd might be a little quirky to some, with his curly hair, his roller skating, or even the sponsor on his hood - Racing With Jesus.  But I think he set a great example to his fellow drivers, his fans, and maybe even the wayward young man he chased down and handcuffed.  When God put him in a situation which required action, he was ready and willing to step into the fray and do the right thing.

While writing this, I found something else which set an example for me personally.  Watch this video where  Shepherd tells a story about his charity and a fellow driver, Carl Edwards, who won the season finale in Miami.  He makes a great point at the end about how God sometimes uses our disappointments to fulfill his greater purpose in our life.  Something more to learn from the 69-year old Christian race driver and crime fighter.  Way to go Morgan!

P.S.  Morgan Shepherd and Carl Edwards aren't the only guys to drive a race car around Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Check out yours-truly giving it a shot.

Feb 21, 2011

Stretched For Our Own Good

My pastor’s recent sermons on trials and suffering, taken from the book of James, reminded me of another way I’ve been stretched, literally, for my own eventual good. I’ve had years of karate training and before every class we began with stretching exercises. It’s every martial artist’s goal to eventually get into a full split with your legs. Not all of us reach that goal, but every serious student will at least try to stretch themselves to their greatest potential.

The interesting thing about stretching is how it accomplishes its goal. When you stretch your muscles to their limit, and a little beyond, the muscles fibers actually tear slightly. Of course, this causes pain. Yes, being stretched to your limits can hurt. But when the muscles recover, they grow stronger and more flexible. Over time, you find that you can stretch farther and more easily, but only after you go through the pain of pushing yourself to the breaking point.

So why would any sane person willingly stretch themselves like this every week for years? Likewise, why does God often stretch us through trials? For the same reason, to reach a necessary goal in our own growth and development. In karate, the physical goal of stretching muscles is to develop the ability to kick higher and stronger and to avoid injury. James 1:2-4 tells us the spiritual goal of God stretching us through ”trials of many kinds” and “the testing of [our] faith” is perseverance, which when finished, will make us “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” In both cases, we can learn two important truths which should inspire and comfort us. First, the pain has a purpose. What we go through, while painful, has a goal of accomplishing something in us for our ultimate good. Second, we can’t reach these goals without being torn, tested, and stretched. No black belt ever develops the ability to throw a kick to the head without hours and hours of laborious stretching and other difficult training. But no Christian will be ready to handle the difficulties of this life in a fallen world without God developing and sanctifying us through the perseverance of trails.

One other thing I learned through stretching in karate might also apply to our Christian walk, especially when we’re really being put to the test. In stretching exercises, we were taught to push ourselves to the point of discomfort and then hold in that position for 30 seconds. At first, this could be painful and difficult. I remember trying my hardest to get my legs just a little farther apart, sweating and having to focus and control my breathing just to stay in position that long. But sure enough, by the end of the 30 second count, my legs would be relaxed, even stretched as far as they had been. We would then push a little farther out and hold our new position again for 30 seconds. After several rounds of pushing, holding, and relaxing, we found that we had actually stretched much further than we ever could have when we first began.

I remember this lesson when I go through a tough emotional or spiritual test. Just hold on through the initial pain, try to relax and control yourself, pray, and after a little while, the pain will subside and you’ll suddenly find that you’re able to be stretched even a little more. God graciously gives us the strength to endure any trial or test he puts us through (1 Cor 10:13) and as Paul encouraged the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

James tells us that God is stretching us towards the goals of spiritual maturity and wisdom. Paul also reminds us in his letters that, like any athlete who trains toward a goal, our strength to persevere won’t come without effort and even some pain. Perhaps when we remember that there is purpose in our suffering, that God is lovingly using our trials to perfect us, we can embrace and better appreciate the necessary pain that comes with it.

Feb 7, 2011

House of Mourning Better Than House of Feasting

In our small group we are studying Ecclesiastes, a book packed full of wisdom relevant to our daily lives, even in this generation. We recently read an interesting passage which has caused me to reflect.
"The house of mourning is better than the house of feasting." – Ecclesiastes 7:2
The idea, as we discussed this, is that times of mourning and sadness are more valuable than times of feasting or celebration because they cause us to reflect on what’s really important in life. Think about the wisdom there. We all love celebrations, whether birthday parties, graduations, holidays, or family reunions. These are enjoyable times where we relax, feast, celebrate accomplishments, and sometimes even give thanks. But there are other times in our lives without joy or gladness, like funerals, hospital visits, layoffs, and separations. The author of Ecclesiastes suggests that the latter events are somehow “better.” If we consider this, I think we’ll agree with God’s perspective here.

When I was in high school, one of my teammates was killed by a drunk driver. He was hit in a crosswalk on his way to the mall on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. But on the two days before that, we had all been together at a regional water polo tournament. Although our team wasn’t typically very good, on this weekend we rallied together and won the whole tournament. We celebrated this rare victory together on Saturday. On Monday morning, I expected to come to school, riding the high of our accomplishment, eager to have the good news announced in every classroom on the PA system. Instead, when I showed up in the weight room before school on Monday morning, I saw every head drooped low as the team sat in stunned silence. We learned that our 15-year old friend had been killed the day before, less than 24 hours since we had last seen him celebrating our big win.

A few days later, our whole team attended his funeral and one by one, hugged his mom and shook his dad’s hand after the service. I think everyone of us reflected on our lives at that point and the elation of our tournament victory suddenly seemed insignificant. I know I valued my life a little more after that. I better appreciated my parents’ love for me after seeing the grief on the faces of my friend’s mom and dad. And after that, I think I appreciated all the happy times in my life a little more, never knowing if they would be the last time I could share a celebration with someone close to me.

When we face sickness or death, we better appreciate the gift of our own lives. We face our mortality in these moments, but hopefully also consider what’s important in our lives and sometimes even make changes as a result. That may be why times of mourning can be considered better.

The last funeral I attended was for my father-in-law. As many funerals are, it was both a time of celebration and of mourning. His life was celebrated by those who loved him, including my wife and step-daughter who gave a moving speech about their wonderful memories with him.

I also sat next to my youngest son who was with us that day. In the middle of the service I noticed my son crying. I asked him what was wrong, only because he hadn’t had a chance to know my wife’s father very well and I was a little surprised at his emotions. He told me he was crying because he was picturing me “up there” in the casket and was scared of losing his dad too. I put my arm around him and reassured him again that I loved him and that I wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Today, I wish my son would remember that honest moment of love and emotion he felt in the “house of mourning”. Through the emotional consideration which comes at a funeral, he felt the love he had for his own father and was overwhelmed. I hope that my promise to him will come true, that I will be around for a while, giving us time to reconcile and restore our relationship. But there are no guarantees with our lives. We all need to appreciate the days we are given, value the relationships and time we share with each other, and resolve to forgive and love one another now while we still have the chance.

Most of all, for anyone who doesn’t know Christ as their personal savior, facing sickness and death should awaken them to their own mortality and their spiritual condition as a helpless sinner facing a holy God. Coming to grips with this reality should drive us to our knees to beg forgiveness. We are all like the thief on the cross, facing certain death but with salvation waiting right next to us.

Yes, the “house of mourning” is better, but only when we reflect and learn from the wisdom that we should find there. Thank God today, not just for times of celebration, but of mourning as well. Consider what you should learn from them so that your life will be better.

Feb 4, 2011

Gird Up Your Loins

Late one evening when my little sister was about two years old, she swallowed a penny and began to choke. With the penny partially lodged in her windpipe, she was able to breathe but there was risk of it coming lose any second and completely blocking her airway. So my parents decided to rush her to the hospital as quickly as possible. My dad stormed into my bedroom and told me to get dressed so we could go to the hospital. I threw on some pants, a shirt, and my shoes and ran into the living room just as everyone else was about to rush out the front door. But then I looked down and realized I had forgotten to put on my belt, and I wasn’t about to go anywhere without my belt.

Only eight years old at the time, I was apparently more concerned about leaving home without my belt than even my sister’s medical emergency. I told my dad to hang on, that I had to go back and put on my belt. He told me no, that we had to leave right away to get my sister to the hospital. I pleaded again, “Please dad, I need to put my belt on first.” Frustrated with me and concerned for my sister, my dad barked back at me “Forget your belt, I’ll hold up your d*%$ pants!” And with that, he grabbed me by the back of my jeans and literally tossed me out the front door like one of the many bales of hay he had stacked back on the farm.

I don’t know why, but to this day I still have to wear a belt with anything other than sweat pants or a swim suit (and only because those don’t come with belt loops, or else I probably would). On the rare days I ever forget my belt, I feel off kilter the whole day. Maybe that’s why I’ve always understood God’s command to Job to “Gird up your loins like a man”, which today would loosely translate to “Put a belt on!” When I read his command to Job, as God warns him “I will question you, and you shall answer me”, I think, “Yeah, Job, you better have your belt on for this!”

The idea behind girding up your loins is to prepare for an impending challenge. To gird up your loins referred to pulling up your robe between your legs and tucking it in under your belt so you could run or fight. Job 38:3 can be translated as “Prepare yourself like a man” (NKJV), “Brace yourself like a man" (NIV), “Dress for action like a man” (ESV), or in the King James, “Gird up now thy loins like a man.” Christian comic Mark Stine paraphrases it as, “Put a cup on!”

In a more general sense in the Bible, “girding your loins” means to be prepared for whatever challenge lies ahead, and not just physically. In 1 Peter 1:13, we’re also instructed to “gird up the loins of your mind.” As men of God, we need to be prepared for whatever physical, mental, or spiritual challenges we may face.

In a previous article, I encouraged men to Prepare for Your Calling. I laid out the how, when, and why of being prepared in life. I’d like to expand on that suggestion now by listing some specific things we should prepare for; in other words, the ‘what’ to be prepared for.

Disclaimer: I am failing at many of these suggestions myself, so this is a list for me as much as anyone else.

Spiritual / Theological

Are you prepared to give an intellectual defense of why you believe in God, why you believe that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to salvation, and how you know the Bible is true and trustworthy?

Do you have at least a basic understanding of other religions and beliefs so that you can debate intelligently with others you encounter, who may even be trying to convert you? Have you studied other belief systems so that you have something to discuss with the next Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness who knocks on your front door?


Are you taking care of yourself physically so that your body will last as long as God needs you to take care of your family? Are you doing what is required to help ensure that you won’t be an unnecessary burden on others with your physical needs? Are you physically prepared for a foreign missions trip, or the next church work day, or an emergency in your home or on the road?


Are you spiritually and emotionally prepared to deal with loss in life, with changes in circumstances that may challenge you, with situations which may test your faith? How are you stretching your faith now in the happy times to prepare for times of trial? Do you deal with your emotions in a healthy and productive way, so that you have emotional reserves to handle the unexpected?


Are you following sound Biblical principles to prepare for tough financial times (perhaps even worse than what we’re seeing today)? Would you be prepared to handle a financial collapse in our economy, loss of your job, or major unexpected expenses? If not, what can you do today to be better prepared?


What are you doing to continue to grow in every important area of your life? Don’t think that God is going to leave you alone to rest on your current abilities. He most likely has even greater challenges ahead for you in the future. What can you do today as a man to prepare to be a better husband, father, church leader, employee, evangelist, citizen, and disciple? What are your goals in these areas and what are you doing to reach them?

This is far from a complete list, but rather just a few suggestions of the type of responsibilities we should be preparing ourselves for. The problem with lists is that they often lead to guilt and frustration, as just another reminder of what we haven’t done. I pray that this won’t be the case here. God understands that we all have limited time and energy and that much of life is about prioritization and balance. But please use this as another reminder to be prepared for whatever may be ahead in your future. Don’t waste your time being complacent with where you are today. Gird your loins for what God may need you to do next.

Jan 31, 2011

Finding Our Identity in Christ

Last summer I went through a very tough time emotionally. I felt lost and without purpose and I was overcome with doubt about what to do with situations in my life. I took some time alone outdoors to think and pray. I sought professional counsel and I kept a prayer journal to really analyze what was going on in my heart.

Eventually God gave me some helpful insights and I reached a place of relative peace with where my life had come. One of the most helpful, but surprising, realizations I reached had to do with my sense of identity. It dawned on me that a big part of my sadness and sense of being lost was the simple fact that no one called me Dad anymore.

My sons no longer speak to me. Even when my oldest son finally called me to tell me that he was moving away, he made a very intentional point to only call me by my first name, no longer calling me Dad. Maybe this seems like a trivial thing. Who cares what people call you? After all, I am still a father whether anyone calls me that or not. I still have responsibility for my sons and nothing will ever change my feelings for them as my own children. And thankfully, I’m even blessed with the opportunity and joy of being a father figure to my step-daughter, so I still get to fill the role of a father in my daily life with her. But she already has a dad, so quite appropriately, she doesn't call me Dad either.

But for someone who spent fifteen years hearing every day, “Hey Dad, watch this,” or “catch Dad,” or “I love you Dad,” no longer hearing that term of endearment is devastating to me. I never knew how much that simple three-letter word meant to me until I stopped hearing it.
I never realized what a sense of purpose and identity that title, and the acknowledgment of being a dad, meant to me until it was gone.

Taking a step outside of myself now, to look at what this could mean to others, I’ve realized how important our assumed identities can be to us. We take our roles and identities for granted until they’re gone. But when life’s circumstances change who we are to others, how do we react?

For a long time, I was a husband. This identified me to others as a married man. A large part of my purpose in life was to be my wife’s faithful, loving husband. When that role was no longer accepted or even acknowledged, I found myself putting all of my purpose and identity into being a good father. This gave me peace, purpose, and joy even in the midst of a dying marriage. But as my sons were pulled from me too and I no longer live everyday as their dad, this left me drifting and searching at times for who I was supposed to be.

We all go through changes in life and who we are to others changes over time. How you react to these changing roles tells a lot about how you see yourself. How did you or will you react when your parents die and you are no longer a son or daughter? Will you lose some of your purpose in life? When your children move out and don’t seem to need you anymore as their parent, will you be searching for your lost identity as so many “empty nesters” do? If you lose your job and one day you’re no longer an engineer or a sales rep or whatever was under your name on your business cards, will you be searching for what to call yourself when you’re introduced? Ever notice how retired military officers, judges, doctors, and others still carry their titles well into retirement? It’s as if they are trying to hold on to the label that so identified them to the rest of the world, and to themselves, for as long as possible.

I hate to say it, but every title we carry in life, every role that defines who we are, is potentially fleeting and temporary. There is only one name for us, one purpose, one identity that is truly eternal and worthy of putting any confidence into, and that is being a disciple of Christ. Every other role and identity for us is subject to change, but being a Christian is the commitment of a lifetime and beyond. This calling and purpose makes anything else we are seem trivial.

This is what I finally realized which gave me peace in the midst of my ongoing trials. I know who God is and I know who I am in him. I came back to this understanding after losing my children and losing some of my identity as a father. Ironically, I first understood this truth on the very first day I became a father.

When my oldest son was born premature and we weren’t sure if he was going to make it, I was immediately faced with the possibility of losing my child (and my role as a father) before my life with him even began. When I went home after the first day I cried my heart out in the shower, asking God to save my newborn son and to give me the chance to raise him and get to know him. But God also gave me the strength to pray through the possibility of losing him. I remember being overwhelmed with the peace of realizing that no matter what happened, God would still be God, and I would still be his. I would still love God no matter what. My son was not mine to have forever, but a precious gift from God to take care of for whatever time he allowed me the privilege.

I didn’t lose my son that first week. Thankfully, he grew up to be a strong healthy boy, and later, even a big brother to my other precious son. I’ve had many happy years to enjoy being their dad, to teach them and play with them, to provide and care for them, and to share with them my love of the God who gave them to me. I pray every day for these broken relationships to be healed and for my sons to come back to their father. But until that day comes, I take peace and comfort in knowing that I am still and always will be God’s son. I have my identity and purpose in knowing who I am in Christ, in whatever he calls me to do, for as long as he would have me do it.
“In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” - Ephesians 1:5-6

Jan 25, 2011

Showing Restraint With Strength

(Dedicated to my son Colin, who turns 17 today)

One of my proudest moments as a father came when my oldest son had to use his martial arts training to defend himself. An older boy was giving him a hard time at the playground and eventually grabbed my son around the neck with both hands. At this point my son was about ten or eleven and had been taking karate with me for a few years. We both learned a self-defense move to counter just such an attack. As my son was being choked by the larger boy, he quickly stepped into his memorized self-defense move and broke the bully’s grip from around his neck. However, what impressed me was not just what he did to free himself, but what he DID NOT do next.

You see, the move we had learned had both defensive and offensive elements to it. The first part broke the attacker’s grip and knocked their hands away. But the next two steps after breaking free were supposed to break the attacker’s nose then finish with a two-hand strike to the attacker’s chest. We had practiced this move hundreds of times so that it became instinct. But we were also taught an equally important concept which my son also remembered. Our karate instructor always emphasized, especially to the kids, the idea of force appropriate to the situation. He explained the difference between life threatening situations (like a girl getting raped or a kid getting pulled into a van) versus situations not quite so serious, like a bully on the playground. I also reinforced this idea of self-control and restraint with both of my sons so that they only used what they were taught at the appropriate times and in a controlled manner.

My son read the situation just right because as soon as he broke free of the other boy’s hands, he simply stepped back, took a defensive position, and told the other kid to leave him alone. But, thankfully, he refrained from breaking the other boy’s nose and ribs, even though I’m sure he could have. And thankfully, the other boy got the point that my son wasn’t going to put up with being pushed around.

What impressed me about how my son handled himself was how he understood his abilities, but quickly assessed what was required to meet the situation and showed restraint from going too far. He used only the minimum force necessary to protect himself and chose not to abuse his power to hurt another person. In doing so, he reinforced to me a lesson men should bear in mind as we deal with others.

Godly men need to show restraint in how we deal with others.  Yes, I encourage Christian men to be bold and strong, to stand up to others for what is right. I’ve encouraged my brothers to be appropriately firm with our children and even our wives when necessary. But as Spiderman learned, with great power comes great responsibility.

Most men have natural God given traits which can make us somewhat intimidating to our children and even our wives if we don’t show restraint. As Christians we’re all called to loving exhortation and sometimes even rebuke for a wayward brother or sister. If we manage employees at work, we hold their livelihood in our hands so that they and their families depend on our fair treatment. Church leaders have power in exercising their authority and oversight. In these and other situations, men must show appropriate restraint in how we execute our responsibilities and in how we deal with others.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Prov 15:1

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” 1 Peter 3:7

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Col 3:21

“Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.” 1 Tim 3:2-4

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Gal 5:22

Men, we need to be ready to take on any challenge God puts before us. We need to prepare and train for spiritual warfare in our lives. Our wives and children need to see us as strong, confident, leaders in our homes. And our churches need men willing to lead with principle and courage. But men, we also need to control ourselves, being aware of our potential, and only use what is necessary for a given situation.

Jan 11, 2011

Should Christians Work Out?

It’s that time of year again. The gyms and bike paths are full of well intentioned, newly motivated, would-be athletes. Everyone has started their New Year’s resolutions or are at least trying to shed the extra pounds picked up from all the holiday meals and endless desserts. But you know what they say about good intentions?

Of course, most of these fitness converts will be missing in action again by Valentine’s Day, leaving the weight rooms and racquetball courts to the hard-core, year round exercise fanatics. It’s these folks who cut me off in the traffic circle every day on my way home, racing to get to the gym before all the bench presses and elliptical trainers are taken. It must have been one of these zealots who I saw in the weight room the last time I was at the gym.

At first glance, I didn’t know what this guy was doing. Trying not to focus on others while they’re working out, all I saw was what looked like a guy praying to a steel tower. Only after I stopped my curls and took a closer look did I see that he was pulling on a rope doing an exercise called a cable crunch.

 But the visual of someone praying before the exercise machine stuck in my head as a metaphor for how some can take working out too far, making it an idol and a self-obsession. On the other hand, from this picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger it might appear that enough cable crunches could eventually lead to a Mr. Universe title, action movie roles, and maybe even the Governor’s Mansion in California!

We live in a very materialistic and carnal culture. The media and advertising assault us constantly with images of bodies most of us will never have. We’re inundated with countless diet and exercise programs promising quick results, yet for most of us, the battle to keep off the weight and stay healthy becomes a constant struggle, only getting more difficult as we age.

So what’s a Christian to do? Is there a Biblical way to approach exercise and fitness? Once again, as with most things in life, the key is balance. There are valid, biblical reasons to keep our bodies fit, but of course, we can go too far, even to the point of sin depending on our motives and priorities.

First, bodily exercise is not only permitted in the Bible, but recommended and endorsed for the sake of self-discipline, such as in 1 Cor 9. But God puts bodily exercise in its rightful place, secondary to spiritual discipline. In 1 Timothy 4:8, we are told that “bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Therefore, it’s fine to keep our bodies in shape, for service in this world, but even more important to keep our souls healthy, as we’ll need them both in this world and for all eternity.

So, speaking of motivations, see if these lists help you check your reasons for working out to keep things in balance. Or if you don’t currently work out, perhaps you’ll find motivation to join the rest of the exercise rookies and prodigals back in the gym this week.

5 good reasons to exercise:
  1. To keep yourself healthy (as a good steward of the amazing resource God gave you to use and maintain)
  2. To discipline yourself, fight off sloth, and bring your bodily desires into subjection (1 Cor 9:24-27)
  3. To stay physically attractive to your spouse
  4. To be prepared for anything God calls you to do
  5. To set an example for your children

 5 not-so-good reasons to exercise:
  1.  To attract (other) women (1 Cor 6:13)
  2.  To brag or lord it over others
  3.  To worship yourself
  4.  To compete with the world and it’s standards
  5.  When working out gets in the way of more worthy pursuits
 Just remember as you “work out” your body, don’t neglect your soul. As we’re told in Phil 2:12-13, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Jan 7, 2011

An Example of Sanctification in Action

This is a story of two men you may know.

The first man was enthusiastic, well intentioned, and bold but often lacked insight and faith. He publically denied knowing Christ. He was so brash and impulsive that he once attacked and severely injured someone with a deadly weapon. Even after coming to know the Lord, on one occasion he was so scared and had such a crisis of faith that he almost died. Later after entering ministry he fell into theological error and had to be privately and even publically corrected by another church leader.

The second man, however, became a major figure in his church. He preached such powerful sermons that even one of his earliest messages led to three thousand conversions in one day. He wrote theological masterpieces still studied in the church to this day. A martyr of the first order, after being arrested for his preaching and sentenced to death by the dictatorial government, he insisted on being crucified upside down as he felt unworthy to die in the same manner which his Lord died.

These two men, of course, are both the apostle Peter. Perhaps more than any other figure in the Bible we see Peter as an example of the transforming work of sanctification in a man’s life. Peter was one of Christ’s three closest and most trusted friends and disciples. Along with Paul, Peter ascended to one of the two most influential leaders of the early Christian church. He was the official apostle to his fellow Jews. He preached the very first Christian sermon after Pentecost. He was called The Rock long before Dwayne Johnson ever took the nickname.

But before that Peter also had a few embarrassing missteps and even one or two colossal failures. Only as God transformed and sanctified Peter did he become the spiritual giant who led the first century church. Peter gives me hope as a fallible, often impulsive man myself, who has made plenty of mistakes in my life. Even though I groan every time I read about Peter denying Christ (Three times, even after Jesus told him he would!), I still take comfort to know how mightily God used him after his repentance and forgiveness. Even though I snicker sometimes when I read how Peter would sometimes miss the point of Jesus’ teaching or go off half-cocked, I’m also encouraged to see that God seems more than willing to take enthusiastic men like that and steer them in the right direction.

Peter at times was presumptuous, slow to comprehend, cowardly, timid, arrogant, lacking faith, and even blasphemous. And what man isn’t all of these at some time in his life? So far, he sounds a lot like me. But by the time God was done with him, after pouring out his Holy Spirit on him, after teaching him and illuminating truth in his heart and mind, and after progressively and continually sanctifying him, Peter became someone willing and able to do great things for God. This same Peter became bold, courageous, teachable, insightful, immovable, faithful, self-sacrificing, and a true leader of his people and of his church. This Peter sounds more like a man I can only hope and strive to be.

So how did Peter transform from such a typical, flawed man into such an effective and bold leader of the church? The early Jewish leaders were wondering the same thing after they arrested Peter and John for preaching of Christ. After hearing Peter, "filled with the Holy Spirit", answer their charges, they reached this conclusion in Acts 4:13;
"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
That’s the key for any of us who hope to be used by God; to be with Jesus. Only through spending time with Jesus will we ever reach the potential God has in mind for us. Only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will we ever be transformed into faithful and effective servants of God. Only by dedicating our lives to glorifying the Father will we ever hope to share in his glory. Let Peter be an example of the power of God’s sanctification in our lives.