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Dec 24, 2012

True Comfort and Joy

The other day, while waiting in the drive-through at one of my favorite fast-food restaurants, I noticed the sign board was advertising a chicken sandwich with the exclamation, “Discover the delights of Comfort and Joy!”  Given the time of year, I can only assume the slogan was a not-so-subtle reference to Christmas and the familiar carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which proclaims “tidings of comfort and joy.”

Now I love a good chicken sandwich.  When I’m hungry, a good juicy chicken sandwich will give me delight, even comfort and joy.  Sometimes however, especially if it’s made with breaded chicken and topped with extra bacon, with a side of fries, it might give me discomfort, guilt, and remorse.  But usually a tasty chicken sandwich does indeed give me comfort and joy.
But aren’t we giving the delight of food a bit too much credit here?  And by using that phrase on a billboard at Christmas time to describe a fast-food sandwich, aren’t we really downplaying the only real source of comfort and joy, that is the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ?  This was how I felt when I saw those words used that way.
When you compare the carnal “delight” of a piece of food to what the Christmas carol promises, you’ll see how there’s really no comparison (and probably shouldn’t have been, even in a clever ad campaign).  In that familiar song we’re reminded that “Christ, our Savior, was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.”  Eternal salvation from our own sin and the power of Satan?  That’s lasting comfort and exceeding joy.  Not even angel food cake can deliver that, let alone a chicken sandwich.
In all seriousness, let’s look even beyond a human authored Christmas carol and remind ourselves of what God himself promises us in terms of comfort and joy through the birth of his son, Jesus Christ.  Let these words from sacred Scripture give us true delight this Christmas.
In Jeremiah 31, God promised the restoration of Israel, but also gave a promise of final restoration with him through Christ.  “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well.  I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
The fulfillment of this promise is proclaimed in the opening of the New Testament when the incarnation of our Lord is announced.  In Luke 2 we are told, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

But how do we know this joy in our lives?  How can we attain this peace from God?  Simply through accepting God’s gracious love and returning it to him and to others in this world.  Listen to the simple instructions from Jesus himself on how to love and be loved.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:9-12
But for some of us, Christmas without beloved family members or during times of suffering or sickness can be even harder than normal days in our lives.  Can we still have comfort and joy at this time too?  In God’s merciful grace, yes we can.  “Though, now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief…” yet “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  Now, more than ever, “The Lord is at hand…” so “ do not be anxious about anything…and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
And finally, as we count our many blessings from the Lord, let us be a comfort to others, especially those less fortunate than us.  Remember Paul’s reminder on this to the church in Corinth.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Cor 1:3-5
So praise God today for true comfort and joy which can only come from salvation through Jesus Christ.  From God we can have comfort that lasts more than a meal, comfort from all of life’s trials, comfort for our very souls.  We can have comfort which lets us be “content in any and every situation.”  And we can have joy beyond measure.  Exceeding joy when God’s glory is revealed.  Joy which surpasses all human understanding.  Joy at the coming of our salvation.
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

Apr 30, 2012

Humility and Boldness

I have been calling godly men to be both bold and humble.  But often, these seem like conflicting goals and are certainly hard to perfect at the same time.  Most of us fail in both areas, but often find one more challenging than the other.  Some men are naturally bold, but could use a big dose of humility.  Others are perhaps too humble, or rather meek, and need to step up in their boldness.

My pastor once claimed something I found remarkable, but once I really thought about it, very true as well.  He said that only in the Gospel can you be both humble and bold at the same time.  Think about that for a second.  The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us two critical things.  First, we are lost in our sin and without hope of ever being good enough or of saving ourselves.  That’s humbling.  But second, we are also of infinite worth due to the price God himself paid for our sins, and as eternal heirs of the King, we have been granted truth, salvation, righteousness, and power in this world and the next.  That should make us bold and confident.  If we can remember and embrace both of these truths, we may be able to balance humility and boldness in our walk with God and before men.

Many men, perhaps most men historically, have a tendency towards pride or even arrogance.  Many men without the truth of their lost and sinful state go about their lives bragging, competing with the other alpha males, and living for their own selfish indulgences.  Still, I was shocked when I saw an extreme example of this on the bookstore shelf this week.
It was the title of the book which caught my attention first.  I’m Awesome.  The subtitle was even sillier and just as arrogant – One Man’s Triumphant Quest to Become the Sweetest Dude Ever.  No, I didn’t see this in the Humor section, it’s a real autobiography of an ex skateboarder, ultimate fighting enthusiast, and now radio talk show host.  I was disgusted but intrigued by the title so I had to at least read the intro.
“My book has it all: Drugs, alcohol, wild boars, prostitutes, skateboarding, guns, motorcycles, broken bones, fire, and Tony Hawk.  I’ve been knocked out more than ten times, and done a ludicrous amount of drugs, but this is the whole story, as best as I remember.”
Despite the author’s claim that his book “has it all”, I’m pretty sure there’s at least one thing missing – humility.  This guy seems to be reveling in, bragging about, and now profiting from a wasted life of hedonism, abuse, and juvenile foolishness.  This kind of guy gives the rest of us men our unwanted reputation as adolescent idiots, who without the wise restraining protection of our mothers, our wives, and the government, would have burned out or killed ourselves by age 25.
Could the power and truth of the Gospel message instill some much needed humility in a man such as this?  Just consider one passage from James 4 to get God’s perspective on a life lived (and wasted) in the prideful pursuit of self.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:6-10

Fortunately the church may not have too many macho fools like the author of the book I saw.  Maybe a few with a colorful testimony of past sins, but hopefully not many still glorifying such a lifestyle with the arrogant conclusion of “I’m Awesome!”  No, for most of us Christian men, our problem in this balance tends to be our lack of boldness.
We go about our lives acting as if we don’t have the Truth or the confidence of being indwelled with power by the Holy Spirit.  We are often timid and sheepish in our interactions with others, believing the world’s lies of relativism, coexistence, and equality of ideas.  We find ourselves passively accepting what we know is wrong, afraid to confront or even disagree with others.  We make excuses for our inaction and silence like “Who am I to say what’s right or wrong?” “How could I make a difference?” or “I don’t want to start any trouble.”
Maybe we have the humility thing down (although I doubt it if we’re honest), but most of us could still use a good dose of Gospel truth to bolster our boldness in this world.  Consider Paul’s encouragement in Ephesians 3 and Philippians 4 that “in Christ Jesus our Lord…we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him,” so that “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

No men, we have no business going around telling everyone I’m awesome, but we should never forget that we serve and are saved by “the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.”  The truth of the Gospel should keep us humble, reminding us daily of our depravity, our helplessness, and our total dependence on God’s saving and sustaining grace.  And the Gospel should also motivate, encourage, and inspire us to confident boldness in the name of Christ.  Yes, only the power of the Gospel can equip us to be both humble and bold.

Apr 22, 2012

AdultBirth - Well Worth the Pain

In a recent sermon from Galatians 4, we heard of the apostle Paul being “in the anguish of childbirth” for his “little children” of the church. Our pastor suggested another term we may consider as parents – "adultbirth". If childbirth is the act of producing a child, adultbirth is the even longer process of producing an adult. Childbirth generally takes nine months and several hours to accomplish. Adultbirth may take 18 to 20 years to finally produce a young, but independent new adult. 

My pastor acknowledged that guys may be a little uncomfortable with the thought of birthing a child. And probably as a result, women bear the full burden of childbirth themselves. Hopefully they are helped through the process with the love and support of their husband by their side, but if you’ve ever been blessed to witness a birth, you know women alone bear the full painful responsibility of pregnancy and childbirth. 

But all parents, including fathers, are responsible for adultbirth, the long process of raising little children into healthy, responsible, loving adults. And just as childbirth can be a long, exhausting, and even scary process, so can raising the child into adulthood. But just as childbirth is ultimately well worth the pain to bring a new life into the world, parenting for all those years is also worth the effort to bring a fully grown adult into our world, prepared for what lays before them. 

Parenting, or adultbirth, can be challenging. For many men, being a father is both the most difficult thing they will ever do, and also the thing they feel most inadequate and least equipped to do. For starters, parents have to keep their children alive, from giving them the right medicine, to teaching our little boys not to jump out of the tree or pick up that snake, to picking out the safest car for them when they’re ready to drive. Parents have many sleepless nights, whether it’s sitting up all night comforting a sick baby, or sitting in the living room waiting for your teenager to finally come home. Parents are expected to know all the answers, from why do squirrels have bushy tails to why do I have to wait if I really love him. And parents have the constant responsibility to set a good example for their children in every way, to model Christ before their eyes every day, to display the fruits of the Spirit in their home, to say sorry when they fail at this, and then to hope that their children make better choices in life than they did when they were the same age. These and many more daily burdens are why most fathers have grey hair if they have any left at all. 

But parenting is also the most rewarding and worthwhile responsibility that a man or woman could pour themselves into. For starters, God places brand new, impressionable little souls under our care to lead and teach in the ways of righteousness. We get the privilege of being God’s primary instrument to evangelize and disciple new believers within the daily confines of our homes for roughly two decades. Each day, if we take the time to notice and appreciate it, we can watch a new human being develop right before our very eyes, growing each day in size, strength, maturity, knowledge, and wisdom. We get to witness a unique personality and sense of humor develop out of what was originally a helpless, mute, little baby. As parents we share in the pride and satisfaction of each new accomplishment, comfort and encourage after each new pain or heartache, and guide and lead through each new challenge. Finally, we get to pass on family legacies and traditions, to carry on our family name, to affect our world through the ongoing impact of our next generation. Being a parent is a blessing without compare and as any parent will confess, no matter how tired they may be by the end, well worth all the years of hard work and sacrifice. 

I’ll leave you with one final word of encouragement to all parents, but especially fathers. Some births are more difficult than others (and none are easy from what I’ve seen). But mothers know they can’t quit no matter how hard or painful it might get. They have to push through the pain and focus on their goal of bringing their new baby into the world. And parents, yes fathers too, have to push through the tough times and do what’s necessary to reach your goal, that of bringing about a new adult. A fully grown, responsible, God loving, ready to face the big bad world adult! And fathers can’t quit this task, no matter how hard it may get, no matter how much our kids still kick and scream to have their way, no matter how easy it would be just to retreat into the much easier worlds of career, sports, and self, leaving the hard work of parenting to our wives. No men, adultbirth is your job too, and according to the Bible, primarily your job, so don’t quit just because the birth pains double you over sometimes. There’s a new adult waiting to be born, and it’s up to you to bring them into the world.

Mar 9, 2012

10 Modern Slogans You'll Never Hear From the Mouth of God

  1. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. 
  2. Just do it! 
  3. Obey your thirst. 
  4. Bottoms up. 
  5. It's only cheating if you get caught. 
  6. The ends justify the means. 
  7. Have it your way. 
  8. It's all about the benjamins. 
  9. If you're not first, you're last. 
  10. You only go around once. 

Jan 2, 2012

Be Still…and Know God

I just got back from a bike ride through the forest, or at least the closest thing I can find to a forest where I live. As I escaped the sounds of mankind and lost myself for a short while in nature, alone with God, I realized I hadn’t been alone in the woods often enough lately. Men need quiet time alone with God, and I can’t recommend a better place than immersed in God’s creation.

I’m not the first man to figure this out or recommend such a practice. The Bible is full of encounters with God in the wilderness. Sure, back in biblical days, people spent a lot more time outdoors, so maybe you think that’s just a coincidence. You might also argue that God can speak to us anywhere; in our bedroom, in our office, at the dinner table, even in our car. Why would we need to go off into the woods to commune with God? What are we, a bunch of pagan hippie nature lovers? I might buy this except for two things. First, we are told repeatedly to quiet ourselves when we pray and most places in today’s modern world are far from quiet. And second, Jesus himself made a practice of retreating to the outdoors to pray.

Psalm 46 tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God.”  We so often skip over the first part of that admonition and then wonder why it’s so hard to know God. Other than when you’re asleep, how often in your typical day could you say that you are truly still? I mean no one else talking to you, no background noise, no radio or TV, no kids playing nearby, no cell phones, no computer, nothing. Just quiet, you and God alone in silence. In our world today, you really have to work hard to achieve stillness.

I believe much of David’s closeness to God, his insights into God’s grace, his grasp of his dependence, came from his many days and long nights tending his father’s sheep in the quiet pastures. In his most famous Psalm, David thanks his Lord for making him lie down in green pastures, leading him beside quiet waters, where He then refreshes his soul and guides him along the right paths. Remember, it was David the lowly shepherd boy, after countless boring days spent in pastures beside quiet waters who had the faith to face Goliath to defend God’s holy name. And it was an older David the King, busy ruler of a nation living in a bustling palace in the city who lost his way and fell into great sin.

If King David wasn’t enough of an example for us to follow, consider how the Lord Jesus found closeness to his Father in prayer. In Mark we’re told that Jesus, “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark…departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Luke also tells us that “he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.” Ask yourself why Jesus, in perfect spiritual harmony with his Father, still found value in getting away from it all, into the wilderness to pray. If this was important to our Lord, I think we can benefit too.

So make it a point in this new year to find more quiet time alone in the wilderness with God. Get on your bike, or in your boat, or on the trail and get lost until you can’t hear anything but the wind or the waves and hopefully the Spirit of God speaking to you, and know that He is God.