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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.