Reflection on Tragedy…
Recent days have again brought to the forefront of our minds the inevitable reality that life is saturated with pain, suffering, brokenness, injustice, and evil, pure evil. As we sit to think on such things we often get bogged down under the weight of the inevitable, some delve into paranoia with no sense of security, some become rocks, stoics, unmoved by tragedy or joy. How should we approach these things? What do we learn? Where do we go from here? Often the question that we so desperately want answered is ‘why?’. Why would such a thing happen? If we didn’t believe in God before, now we are asking ‘where He was and why would he allow this?’. But I think this is the wrong question to be asking, and we all know why intuitively (that we will not ultimately understand). The real question is what. What now? What does this reveal? What can I pull from this? What am I going to do?
Before I start, I want to say right at the beginning, that what happened in Newtown is an atrocity. A random act of pure evil that crushes the hearts of us all and God himself. I am not going to go on pretending like this is okay, and since God is in control, put on a fake smile and bear it. That is not what the Bible teaches. That is insanity. My heart breaks for mothers and fathers, brother and sisters, families, as they were mercilessly torn apart and left to deal with the vacuum of lost loved ones. So before some of you begin to say that I am undervaluing the suffering, dismissing it, or ignoring it, I am not. I am embracing it, struggling with it, and allowing it to do what it does best – opening us again to reality, teaching us, awakening us.
The obvious place for me to start is to see what the Bible says about suffering. I read once that the Bible speaks about suffering twice as much as it does healing. Is this not true in your own life? More often then not we are confronted by the brokenness in this world and are left to try and figure it out.
Here is where a tangent must be made, how can I speak to what to Bible says about suffering unless first we see that God must exist, before suffering begins to even make sense? In an age of secularism and autonomy we are so desirous of freedom. We want to make the rules and live by our rules (and potentially let others do the same). But, to do so, one has to reject God. Aldus Huxley, a great thinker and author was quoted as saying “There’s only one effectively redemptive sacrifice, the sacrifice of self-will to make room for the knowledge of God.” He was saying that to gain the freedom we want we must reject God, since to accept God, to even make room for the possibility of God, is to lay down and sacrifice the self will. Thus, to allow us full disclosure of our depravity we have sought to reject the very notion that a God could exist, because if we were to admit such a thing, our freedom would be usurped and we would have to submit to Him.
With the removal of God from our shallow awareness we are given over to inevitable consequences. A most obvious and rampant one is that there are no universal truths, that everything is relative to the person and no one is right and no one is wrong. After all, how could someone be right (and wrong) if there wasn’t such a standard by which to judge rightness? This is something that our culture has clung to for dear life. We worship tolerance as a way of seeing the world, and we champion it in the public sphere. But, let’s just be honest for a second. We all know that this is simply absurd, don’t we? If all truth is relative, then no one can be ultimately wrong. But we don’t want to say that, we can’t say that. If were to say that, we cannot say that the Newtown massacre was wrong, but it certainly was. Don’t you see, Truth and rightness cannot be relative or else we are thrust into utter chaos. Suffering becomes relative, and the deaths of those children, become a meaningless blip in the history of mankind. But don’t we all know intuitively that this isn’t the case? We get outraged at the injustice that was done, and we need to ask why? Why are we angry at the man? Why do want justice to be done? Even though we must accept relative truth because we want ‘freedom’, we know in our deep conscience that Truth is certainly not relative, that justice is not flippant and that wrongness and evil do pervade. Or else, we have to say that for him (the Newtown murder), murder was right, it was his truth. But, friends, can we not see that his is not what we actually believe? The problem for you is if you have already rejected God, this is where you have to end up, even though we know we cannot be here. We cannot actually say that truth is relative, no one believes that deeply.
You may reply to me that in fact, without God’s existence there is still a moral principle that pervades our collective human mind and that it came through evolution to help us, and now we uphold it. We made the law, and God didn’t need to be involved in that. Oh, but friend, you have just trapped yourself. Not because morality couldn’t have possibly arose from such conditions in an earlier ancestor, but because it thus becomes absolutely meaningless. You see, you are forced to assume that at base, we are just atoms, a random happenstance, with no inherent meaning or purpose. Unlimited freedom leads us to inevitable meaninglessness. What’s the point after all of right and wrong, if we are just going to die, and dissolve. This is the point of the existential philosophers who tell us to create meaning in life, because the obvious is staring us right the face, we are utterly meaningless. What do our feelings really matter, what do our dreams really count for, why even be a good person, if ultimately we all end up the same, dissolved, atoms and energy reabsorbed into the world. If, for instance, you were on a ship, like the Titanic, and it was sinking and death was inevitable, what would it matter if some guy came and stole your wallet? It wouldn’t matter. You might as well give him your life savings. And this is the very same thing that happens to us when we reject God, and embrace naturalism (that everything is just particles, random, purposeless). But again, don’t we know that this isn’t true? Doesn’t that intuitive ‘gut’ feeling tell you of course this can’t be true. There must be deeper meaning behind all of this. If not, how can we even say that what happened at Newtown is a tragedy? It was become ultimately meaningless, maybe sad, maybe painful, but still meaningless. But no, we can’t say that. We know better. Those lives had meaning. There was purpose robbed, dreams destroyed, futures crushed. But you cannot say that if you reject God. You cannot have both. You can be greatly deceived, confused or ignorant, but you cannot rationally have both. Purpose isn’t forged, it is given. Purpose is given by the Creator, not derived by the created.
And so in a very real sense, we expose our selves to our true beliefs. We don’t actually believe truth is relative, we don’t actually believe that life is meaningless. We may have to accept these to uphold our selfish desire for autonomy, but underneath it all, this time of tragedy shows us plainly that we do believe in meaning, purpose, and absolute right and wrong. We do believe that evil is real and horrible, that justice should prevail in all circumstances. The question, which I don’t intend to answer (but will assume the answer to it) is which truth claim is most correct? So you need to do your work. Stop pretending, allow real, deep, honest exploration of what life is and how you see it.
Now back to suffering. If we can see that in fact, the existence of God brings to us both right and wrong absolutely, and that life is inherently meaningful (this would have to account for suffering as well) we can begin to see what hope we can gain from Scripture. For us who believe in the Christian worldview – not that there aren’t rational problems with it – are all to aware of evil, both personally and cosmically. Evil isn’t simply a mutation, or an incorrect firing of neurons in the brain, or the product of a bad environment. It’s much deeper. It’s a condition. From the womb, we come bent on evil desires, pride, selfishness, malice, and none of us, in honesty at least, can deny this. I have been a Christian my whole life, and evil still exists in me, my thoughts, actions, motives, all rejecting God’s way. But evil is bigger than us. Because of human – who are stewards of creation - sin, creation itself is decaying. We see this as well all the time, and we can see how suffering arises even from these things. But here, personal and natural evil, is where the secularist must stop. But I would argue that this is to narrow. Massacres like the ones in recent days, are another kind of evil, demonic is the only word I can think of. Unredeemable acts of pure evil and injustice. These find their source not just in our personal brokenness, but in the spiritual warfare that wages around us. This is Spiritual evil. It is gross, pain producing, life draining, unnecessary evil, and is not our fault.
Where do we go now? If we can say that, yes, evil really does exist, and it is sometimes bigger than we can even understand, what about God? Where is He is all of this? Where is His wisdom for us? How do I deal with this? For questions like these we need to go to the book of Job. This is an epic poem, written around this very issue of suffering and tragedy. Without going into too much depth there are three looming lessons that this book teaches us about suffering. The first is that evil and suffering aren’t always dependent on us, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we all suffer. Job was known to be the most blameless man alive, or in simpler terms, was the best of the good guys around. And yet, we have this poem about how he suffers. And in fact, the bad guys of the poem are his friends who tell him that he must have done something wrong to deserve this (which is called moralism). This is wrong. Evil happens to the good and bad alike and so when suffering comes we can’t revert back to our natural, self- saving attitude (moralism) that I must, they must, we must have done something to deserve this. Secondly, we know that we can’t say God doesn’t care about suffering. God was involved throughout the whole poem. Satan comes to God and a discussion ensues where God says that Job won’t deny him if all his things were taken, and gave permission for Satan to do what he did. And then God comes and actually addresses Job personally after Jobs talk with his friends. This is a huge act on God’s part. To leave heaven and speak to Job, to give Job a voice that is heard and respected. God certainly did care about what was going on. But here is the twist, and the last lesson. Because God is sovereign, because He is involved, we have to assume that suffering also has purpose, much like joy. Tragedy often serves a deep purpose in our lives and God uses it for us. Pain is often the thunder that wakes us to life. Is it easily understood? No. Couldn’t God use something else? I wish I knew. But what I can say with confidence is that amidst great tragedy, joy is soon to follow. Suffering strips us to the core. It exposes the deepest parts of us, and allows us to see that we are not ok, not in control, and unable to save ourselves.
Job teaches not only about some things concerning suffering, but also how to express ourselves in those times (Psalms does a good job here as well). Job in the midst of his suffering, in the midst of the world literally becoming undone, looks to heaven and says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (1:21) Worship came from his lips. I imagine through a veil of tears and dread, he relocated his source of strength, and cried to God as the true and sure Rock. But, like many of us, our emotions ebb and flow in the season of suffering and in chapter 3 Job releases a deep lament, mourning that day that he was born and wishes that it never happened. Being a Christian then doesn’t numb our emotions, I would argue it heightens them. We not only enjoy deeper joy, but also greater sorrow. We are awakened to the present evil and in times of despair it ruins us because we see life as meaningful (if we didn’t, what would it matter?) And God is a big boy, with broad shoulders and can take our anger, our tears, our doubts, our cries, our pain. In 1 Peter, we are encouraged to cast our cares on him, because he cares about us. Our God is a God who, in the face of evil is present, intimate with us, and is our Comforter and Hope.
There is another Father I know that lost His Son. But you see, this Son wasn’t taken, He was given. This Son wasn’t robbed, He was sacrificed. God himself mourns with those who have lost a child, for in a mysterious way He too felt that loss. Jesus, the Son, left heaven’s glory, descended here, and took on our flesh. Suffered, hungered, laughed, cried, rejoiced, lost, and grew like we did. But, unlike us, he wasn’t evil. He wasn’t prideful. He was our perfect representative. He came and died the death that we all deserve because of our sin. Was murdered for us, as a substitute and took the wrath of Justice that was meant for us. In fact, it was joyous occasion to see this Son suffer, because it meant salvation and hope for us who were hopeless. When we come to Jesus, and put our trust in him, and not in our own goodness or morality, we receive salvation, redemption, healing, restoration and reconciliation. We receive amazing grace. And this is why suffering for the Christian is fundamentally different than those without God. This is why Paul says we “don’t grieve like those with no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). We have a Hope, his name is Jesus. When suffering comes, we fix our eyes on Him, we trust him, we are raw with him, but you see we do not grieve like everyone else. We grieve from a place of hope, knowing that one day God will right every wrong. God will heal every heart. God will wipe every tear. God will swallow up death forever. Those of us in Christ have Hope like no other. This doesn’t mean we don’t grieve, or have fake joy – this is unhelpful and unbiblical - but that we Trust in a God who became like us, suffered like us, died like us, and rose to defeat evil, sin and death. My Hope is not dependent on my surroundings, my eyes are fixed on things above, on the true lover of my soul, Saviour, and Comfort. His arms are wide open to come to him today, receive life, salvation, and grace. No one is too evil, to far gone, no suffering is to great. Don’t ask where he was, He is here, he never left.
Though shadows surround, I walk in the Light.
Nothing seems to awaken us like death.
This past week a good friend’s grandfather passed away. Was she ready for it? No. Did they expect it? No. But it is real, more real than they would care to admit. Although this death is not one that is in direct contact with me, the wake of it is still felt. Ironically, I spoke this past week at Young Adults about hope. It seemed fitting to express this hope in light of this present darkness.
However, before we look to hope we need to deal with the shadows. How does one handle a moment like this? Often, especially in a charismatic mindset, those who are suffering are avalanched with the typical clichés, and are even pressured under the name of ‘God’s sovereignty’ to fake a smile and pretend like it is all okay. But how can we for a minute pretend like death is okay? How can we put that extra pressure on the suffering to stand up tall, grin and bear it? This is by far only added suffering to those who are down.
What is the Christian response to suffering? Like everyone else, it’s grief. And let me tell you this, grief is okay. Grief is not an admission of lost faith, or a breakdown of trust. Grief is not anti-Christian and just for those who don’t believe enough. Grief is proper, grief is real. And so, if you haven’t heard it before, it’s okay, go ahead and grieve.
Jesus did, after all. Jesus had a good friend whose name was Lazarus. Lazarus fell ill and died. Jesus had said to Lazarus’ family not worry about it. Jesus was, after all, the “resurrection and the life”, but amidst Christ’s knowledge of what was to come, the Bible tells us that when He arrived and saw the sorrow of the people that Jesus, in fact, wept. Hope doesn’t negate the present suffering but gives us eyes for the future. Jesus knew that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead but, even still, He grieved with those who grieved because God is one whose heart overflows with compassion. Now if Jesus, who had the power to raise Lazarus up and who knew He was about to, grieved then how much more should we? Christian, it is okay to grieve, Jesus did. Death is not okay. Death is when we confront very blatantly the brokenness of our world. Sin has run its course and we have to stare it right in the face and confess this is not good.
But here is where the story changes for us who are in Christ. Yes, we grieve, but we don’t grieve as the world does. The world grieves from a place of hopelessness, a place with no expectation, a place with no ultimate answer, and it weeps bitterly because it knows full well that the brokenness cannot be mended. But we, my friends, we grieve from the place of Hope! Hope is a present reality, with eyes to the future. In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah confesses that he has had enough, he cannot go on, he cannot handle another day. He confesses that he feels like God, Himself, is tormenting him and that when he cries out God is deliberately ignoring him. He confesses he feels as though peace, happiness and hope are gone from him. But then he says this in verse 21-22, “But this I call to my mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.” Amidst it all he knows that God is a God who never fails, never lacks, is never late, is never ending, is never forsaking and always present, never changing, and always able. Jeremiah’s situation doesn’t change but his hope is never fixed in the circumstance, his hope is fixed in God because God is the only solid rock.
My friends, there is an answer to the brokenness. It’s not a program, it’s not a counselor (they are helpful though), it’s not family, it’s not stuff, it’s not science, it’s not medicine, it’s not friends, it’s not money, it’s not time, it’s not education, but it IS a person, and His name is Jesus.
Jesus is the only hope for the brokenness around us. He took upon Himself our brokenness and nailed it to the cross. He took my shame and sin and was punished in my place. He has promised to be the mender of my heart, to give me the Comforter, and is called the God of all comfort. He has promised to one day make all things new, make every wrong right, turn sadness into joy, and mourning into laughter. In Christ we look towards a day, a day when all will be made new, and this is our Hope.
In the present struggle, He is the only solid rock, He is the only place where Hope is found. Everything else is broken, everything else will crumble. He is the anchor of our soul. But our hope lets us look forward. And so we don’t grieve from hopelessness, but we grieve from Hope. He WILL make all things new.
Ps. 23: 4 – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Though shadows surround, I walk in the Light.
Real Men Recap (thus far)
Real Men Worship…and worship Jesus, not themselves or anything else. They are surrendered to Him.
Real Men are Humble… they know life isn’t about them. They aren’t self degrading, but they are selfless. They serve others and love others.
Real Men Repent… They don’t get caught, they confess. They make it better. They change. They get accountable. They allow their repentance to refine them and make them more like Jesus.
Real Men are Pure … they honor women, cherish women, and hate lust. They have a high view of sex and desire purity in their talk, thoughts and actions. They want sex with commitment. Boys just use women for themselves, and they are idiots.
Real Men take Responsibility… this is the marking of a man. They take responsibility for themselves, their wife, kids, family, church, city, and world. Boys are careless and lazy.
Real Men are Gentle… gentle with words. Gentle with actions. Gentleness is the true test of power. Uncontrolled emotions and reactions are for 4 year olds.
Real Men are Emotion Rich … they understand their emotions. They are led by them, neither are they emotionally dead. There is a vibrancy, yet control to the emotions of a man.
Real Men Lead Righteously … when a man leads well people flourish. Wives flourish. Kids flourish. Others flourish.
Real Men… Lead Righteously
“When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.” – Proverbs 28:12
When wicked men lead, people want to hide. No one wants to follow a man who is evil. But I think we need to flush out what wicked means first before we go any further. A wicked man in proverbs is one who first and foremost doesn’t fear or honour the Lord. This guy might believe that God is there, he might read his bible, he may have been baptized, been down at the altar, prayed a prayer, the whole gamut, but it means nothing if he isn’t truly saved, filled with the Spirit and living in new life. To fear or honour God is to put His ways above my own and, out of love and thanksgiving, submit my life to His way of operating. Not fearing the Lord is to be a hearer of the word and not a doer of the word. (James 1:22) It is to be someone who doesn’t submit to His ways or denies His presence, whether they believe in him or not.
Continuing down two verses in Proverbs 28, this wicked leader is like a roaring lion or charging bear. He is a devouring animal who feeds off the poor that he oppresses. He devours them with abusing them. This can be done verbally by withholding words of encouragement and life, while speaking death and belittlement over others. This is done to build his prideful ego up. Instead of being the man God has called him to be, stepping up and manning up, he just puts everyone down because that is easier. Practically this is seen in name calling, violent tones and temperaments in conversation, verbal intimidation, and the like. This wicked boy is impish and a coward.
He can devour people (wife, kids, co workers, friends) emotionally. This is where abuse and torment cross paths. Torment is being abused with no way of escaping, due to threats, expectation, and fear. He withholds love and depths. Keeps even his wife at arm’s length and then draws close when he wants something. This is usually paired with verbal intimidation and the woman is left emptied and afraid to go anywhere so she endures. Kids are left hungry for affection, affirmation, and value as Dad is never really there, and when he is he speaks death. Or he devours physically. Having such deep insecurity and pride, he has a need to dominate to prove himself, to himself. No man would ever even consider abusing a woman or child like this, or in any way, only boys, only impish, cowardly boys.
This guy has no integrity, he is unrepentant (Prov 28:13), and lazy. He is accountable to no one because he thinks at the base of it all he is God and he decides what is good and right to do. He is an arrogant boy that desperately needs to grow up.
When this guy is around, everyone runs. Runs fast, runs far. No one wants to be with him. His wife feels trapped, his kids didn’t choose him, and most likely is ignorant of it all. His co workers hide from him, his friends always make excuses for him, he is a joke. “…but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.”
BUT when the righteous rule, triumph, reign, there is great glory, for him and for those around him. A righteous man is humble, repentant, trustworthy and encourages. He builds up, lifts up, and covers those whom he leads. When he is leading the people flourish. That’s the big idea.
All the traits of a Man that I have written on, and still to write on, should ultimately produce human flourishing. As a Man your relationship with God should flourish, or else you won’t be the righteous leader. As a Man your wife should flourish under your leadership. She should develop and be encouraged. She should feel safe enough with you to risk vulnerability and growth. She should be able to become the woman she is called to be because you are not oppressing her, but covering her in prayer and leading her to a deeper relationship with God. Her dreams should be realties (within reason of course.. if she wants to be a 24/7 traveler then that’s not a dream that can happen in every relationship, for example.) Your kids should flourish. They should grow up with affection and affirmation from their father. They should have life instilled in them, destiny seen in them and greatness drawn out of them. If you do your job well, the whole family and, ultimately, society flourishes. This is a HUGE responsibility, and if you aren’t up for the challenge then don’t get married. Manhood is not for boys who can shave, it’s for real men. Manhood is a responsibility not a right.
Finally, Manhood is not measured in years, but decades. Just because you think you are doing a good job now, means nothing really. Praise God for His grace in your life that at this present moment you are succeeding. But you will know whether you were a man or not when you’re 60 and your kids are succeeding, knowing that you loved them, gave everything for them, and are living out your legacy of character. You will know you were a Man when you are 75 and your wife still looks at you and knows that you never stopped loving her, that she has no regrets and wouldn’t trade you for the world. There are always situations that you don’t foresee. Children blatantly rebel yet you were a great dad, wives cheat and leave yet you were great husband. There are always exceptions but even in the exceptions your Manhood would shine through. So, there are no reasons why you can’t Man up.
Yes, it is ideal. Yes, the standard is perfection. No, you won’t measure up. No, you won’t be perfect. But by the grace of God you can still be successful.
What’s the secret to it? What’s the process? How do we find it? Achieve it? It being…happiness.
We are constantly bombarded with our own dissatisfaction. Every Ad says that what you have now isn’t good enough, that there is better, and the grass is, as they say, greener on the other side. But once you get to that other side, there’s another side, whose grass is greener, and so on. Magazine after magazine offers you the 15 steps to happiness, the 6 step process to a better you, the 12 ways to be at peace, etc. We are constantly on a hunt for happiness - that feeling of elation - and we hope that our happiness is the same as our satisfaction. It’s the proverbial ‘American Dream’. To have all I ever wanted and to be all I ever wanted to be, then, I’ll be happy. But is that really working?
To fulfill this longing for happiness we often pursue different processes, possessions, and promotions. As mentioned above, there are countless articles with the ‘secrets’ to a better life. Every guy who wants to make a couple bucks just needs to write a book promising true happiness at the end, fill it with a bunch self help crap, and we will eat it up like its our last meal. But, if you really think about it, if one of those really was the right process, why would we need another one? If one was correct, why reinvent the wheel? So, easily we can conclude, that they are wrong. Which we all at some point conclude on our own. So we move on.
We desire things, we see how happy the people are in Ads, how glorious their life must be, and whether we admit it or not, we want that same feeling, and so we buy. We buy the latest and greatest, and then repeat the process when the newer thing comes out, until we are in so much debt or a hoarder. And yet we find out that these things may distract, but don’t satisfy the craving we have.
And if these don’t work, we get a new me. Maybe the way I look is the issue, if I change how I look, ill be happier. So we get procedures, and try to fix us, but all it does is perpetuate the insecurity, because once I start I am never happy. (this isn’t primarily about plastic surgery, I am aware there are instances where it is appropriate, but in this context, the point stands.)
Some seek promotion, either in career, where they give their lives to be the boss and are left empty when they are, or promotion in status. They want to famous, because if we can be famous, then we must be happy right?
And yet, even though we are living in culture that literally functions on the human desire for satisfaction and happiness, we are not happy. Sure we smile, sure we laugh. But depression is the fastest growing diagnosis and it’s showing up earlier and earlier in children. Suicides haven’t stopped, alcoholism isn’t gone, families fall apart, health still fades, drug abuse still exist, addiction to all types of things haunt us. We are never satisfied, and the reason is pretty simple. We are searching for ultimate joy, ultimate satisfaction in non-ultimate sources, in limited things and experiences. We seek fulfillment and hope in things that will pass. Jobs are lost, money goes, health leaves, family separate, things rust, relationship destruct. And we are left searching for ultimate satisfaction in temporary things. We will never be happy.
The answer…Jesus. And it really is that simple. It’s not just some simple cliché, it is a huge, important, life changing, truth. When I focus my attention on him, and place my desires and fulfillment in his hands, when my world falls apart, I don’t, because my hope wasn’t in things that fade, but in God. When you have Jesus, there is no ultimate need that is not being met. You know that you are valued, loved, and that you can have all the desires of your heart fulfilled. You have a hope that never is shaken, and you have Joy.
I know this personally. My life hasn’t been perfect, whose has? But I have never even had the slightest desire for the high of a drug, the elation of drunkenness, the escape of fantasy world or the rush of unbridled passion, because I am satisfied. There’s nothing I need distraction from. I am fulfilled. Does that mean that life doesn’t hurt? No. Does that mean that I don’t have dreams and wants? No. But these things pale in comparison to what I do have in Christ. My God, who defines me, doesn’t rust, fade, and die. My God, who fulfills me, is always present, comforting, and holding me up. I don’t have to fake my strength, I don’t have to be afraid of my thoughts, I am satisfied, I am deeply, truly happy.
Paul writes that we are to “Rejoice in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:4) Joy comes from Him, and joy isn’t some momentary elation, its permanent satisfaction, a deep trust in a father who loves, and isn’t tossed like the waves every time something doesn’t go my way. Joy is found in one place, I challenge you to honestly evaluate your heart. Is your satisfaction coming from temporary things? Is your happiest time the moments you don’t even remember because of how much you drank? Are you waiting for that person who will complete you? Do you always need the latest and greatest to make you feel happy? Or can you say, “I am satisfied, I do not need anything else, I know whose I am, and my hope is secure.”
My prayer is that you will find happiness, but not the temporary kind that is found in escapism and cheap highs. Come to the Joy that never fails, your heart already desires it, now just let your mind come along.
If someone were to ask you if you are a Christian or not, what would your answer be? If it would be something like, “Well I’m trying my best”, I have some unfortunate news for you. It seems as though you don’t know what Jesus is all about. It may not be your fault. We live in a time where there are many self help motivators that we call Pastors. Not many have a deep knowledge of what the gospel even is anymore. Because of that, many of us are left without the true essence of Jesus and are given simply self righteous, works based religion, like every other belief system out there.
Grace is the wild card. It changes everything, and completely separates Jesus from any other religious system. Every belief system, overtly religious or not (every belief system is religious, but thats for another post), is based on a promotion mindset. The whole idea is if I do these 5 things, follow these 8 steps, move towards morality, increase my capability of reason, etc, I will find salvation. If you can do all of these things then you can “move up” in the system and work your way to heaven. We all have this thought in us. When someone dies and has a funeral, most will say, “They were a good person, they must be in heaven.”. We are constantly working to earn the love and favor of God. And we do this because we instinctively know, we aren’t good enough and need to improve.
But Jesus isn’t about that. I know it actually may be a shock to some of you. Jesus isn’t focused on your works. He already did the work. Jesus isn’t about promotion, He’s about adoption. It’s a status change. And there is no in between. With Jesus you are either in or out. There’s no trying because its not about what you do, it’s about what He did.
A very illuminating way to get this idea is to actually look into the Old Testament. What we can do is look at the process of God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. If someone were to just guess why God delivered them out of Egypt, I have a feeling it would go something like this, “Well, the people must have been asking him for a while, and finally started to do what he wanted, they listened and did all the rituals and stuff, and so when God was pleased and satisfied He helped them.”. Maybe not that barebones, but along those lines. But that is not what happened at all. It’s actually quite amazing. The Bible tells us that God had made a promise to Abraham that his offspring would be God’s people and that He would rescue them from Egypt. Then when the time came, the people cried out to God. The Bible says that God heard them and sent Moses, a mediator, and God delivered them. Then the people crossed the Red Sea, switched over from slavery and death, to life and freedom. Their status was changed and there hasn’t even been a single reference to God’s law. Only after God’s rescued them did he lead them to Sinai, where the law was given to govern the people and work holiness in them.
God didn’t save them because they did anything at all. They didn’t earn it, they were given it. And the same is true for us and Jesus. Our Sin is Egypt, our conversion in the Red Sea, and we’re saved by grace - not because of good works. That is the gospel.
If you do claim to know Christ, He says to you today, “You ARE the light of the world.”. Not that you could be, can be, or ought to be. You ARE, because of his work. The works come after, not before. Jesus says after calling us the light of the world that we need to shine our light, by doing good works, so that all men might see and glorify God. Good works don’t earn you salvation, Jesus dying on the cross and your trust in him do. But good works do show the evidence of your transformation.
Be encouraged today. If you are in Christ, YOU SHINE. No if, ands, or buts about it. But remember also, just because you claim to know Him, doesn’t mean much. Putting a verse as a Facebook post, or tweeting a Christian author, even showing up to Church doesn’t make you a Christian - trusting in Jesus and submitting your life to him does. The evidence of your allegiance to Him is seen in your love for His ways.
YOU SHINE, let the whole word see it.
Real Men… are Emotion Rich (Not Emotional or Stoic)
In my post on gentleness I spoke about the tough/tender continuum. Today I want to explore a subcategory of that same continuum that deals with the realm of emotions. On the one side there is the extreme position of emotionalism, and on the other is the extreme of stoicism. Right in the middle is where we want to be, at what I am going to call being Emotion Rich.
Emotionalism is when a man is overly emotional. He is controlled by his emotions first and foremost. Unless it makes him feel good, he won’t do it. He can be overly lazy, bored easily and extremely arrogant. He is tossed by his emotions as well. He can’t be looked to by his wife, kids, and friends, in times of trial because he is so caught up by how he is feeling hat he isn’t anchored anywhere, he goes where he feels like going. There is no security in him. He is also highly reactive. If someone speaks a harsh word against him he doesn’t use wisdom to discern what really going on, he doesn’t work to consider why the person might have acted that way, he immediately reacts at the level of the other, even lowering himself beyond it most of the time. He cares not what they might be going through, his concern is himself.
He is overly sensitive. Everything is taken personally and causes drama and hell in his life. He is inconsistent. Especially with God, but with other as well. As soon as the “feeling” is gone, he leaves, he is uncommitted past what benefits him. When he goes to church its for an emotional high, and not to actually meet with God. If he doesn’t “feel” God there he assume God has left and doesn’t trust in the Word of God. When relationships get tough he leaves.
If you haven’t noticed, this guy is a child. He never grew up. He’s a boy who can shave and is immature and needs a good rebuke. He is also extremely prideful. Life revolves around him. He will never be a good husband or father since these take commitment and sacrifice, humility and thick skin. Yes, there is a lesson we can learn from him, men do need to be in tune with their emotions, but the emotional man worships himself and not God. God is the ultimate, the one in control not our emotions.
Stoicism on the opposite side is the opposite. He thinks that being a man is not being a woman, so emotions don’t play a role in his life. He is often a great financial provider, but just checks out emotionally for his wife and kids. He bottles everything up and wont be vulnerable or open. He pushes his wife’s advance away and her desire for intimacy scares him so he puts of a shield and says that talking about feelings isn’t manly. If he does react, its in anger. Since, he hasn’t dealt with his issues no matter what he is going through anger is what you see. He doesn’t invest in his relationships, doesn’t know how to encourage, and doesn’t know how to love on a deep level outwardly. He to is prideful. He is essentially about image and a twisted sense of manhood. When his wife asks for more from him he always justifies himself by his financial contribution and says she is being to sensitive. He has grow up to have deep insecurity and he is highly self destructive because he doesn’t know how to open up.
It may seem a little more ‘grown up’ than the emotionalism guy, but it’s the same thing. He is still a child. He needs to mature and humble himself, to accept help when he needs and breath life into his wife and kids.
And so, if we try to work hard enough to find a balance we come to emotion rich living. Being an emotion rich man starts by owning up to the fact that you have emotions. You have feelings and needs, and you need to talk about them. David, King David who fought many wars, wrote beautiful poetry expressing the deepest thoughts of his heart to God. Men often think that stuff is just for pansies and women, but David understood the balance of warrior and poet. He owned his thoughts and feelings and dealt with them. Emotions are here to enhance our life. To allow us to enjoy our existence, our wife, kids, dreams, and use our failures to grow.
In fact, if you aren’t emotionally moved by injustice and oppression, by death, by salvation and recovery, by reconciliation, by beauty, then something is deeply wrong. We were made with the capacity for passion, for deep seated desire that reflect the heart of our Father, God. God is emotion rich. He is not fickle, he is not tossed to and fro by his feelings, he is stable and consistent, but he still rejoices, mourns, grieves, and gets angry. But do you? Emotion richness is stability in the face of turmoil. It’s compassion when darkness is surrounding. Its rejoicing when life is good and mourning when it isn’t. We are told in the Bible that there are times to laugh and cry. That we should rejoice and again rejoice. That we should mourn with those who mourn. Jesus even rebukes the church in Ephesus for having all the right doctrine but having no passion, no love, no emotional desire for him.
Men, where does your pride take you? Are you the stoic, who shuts off and protects yourself. Are you not vulnerable with your wife and kids, and those closest to you? Do you think you have it all together and don’t need help? Do you think emotional responses are womanly? If so, repent. Turn to Jesus. Allow him to awaken and free your heart to be an emotion rich man, one who is blessed and stirred to action, greatness and valiance by the emotions God has given us. Man up
Or, are you overly sensitive? Can’t take a joke. Do you always find yourself deciding by your emotions? Allowing them to define you. Are you reactive and childish when spoken to or rebuked? Are you only doing things for the feeling? Are you uncommitted, undependable, and unstable? Man up. Repent. Don’t turn of the emotions allow Jesus to mature them and redeem them. Use your sensitivity to bring healing into others, redirect it to the benefit of listening and acting for those who are around you.
Man up. Become Emotion rich. Allowing emotions to bless your life, to allow you to enjoy beauty in Gods creation, and drive you a passionate pursuit of him. Let emotions stir your heart to love your wife, kids, and this world. To end injustice, pray for revival and see the brokenness restored. Man up.
Real Men…are Gentle
When someone says the word, ‘Manly’, I’m sure the farthest thing from what comes to mind is the word gentle. Gentleness, generally is ascribed to the women or really wimpy men, but not real tough guys. How stupid.
In 1 Timothy 3:3 Paul tells us that men are to be, “not violent but gentle…” (ESV) How often do we fail at this in what we think manhood really is. But, what is gentleness? Paul contrasts it to violence, so that should give us a hint into what he is meaning. A gentle person is controlled, level headed, and fair minded. Gentleness does not mean that there is an absence of power, ability or authority. But it does mean that the way I conduct myself, how I speak, interact, feel, react, etc. are under control and appropriate.
You see there is a continuum that men fall on, some call it the tough/tender, others the warrior/poet continuum. Whatever you want to call it, it means that at one end there is all tough, all warrior mentality, no emotion, duty, violent, anger, reactivity. And the other is the passivity, the impish, emotional and easily swayed, no backbone and cant defend himself or anyone else. Either of these two extremes are wrong, are boyish. A Man works to be the middle ground. Let’s look to Jesus.
A perfect balance of these two extremes is profoundly observable in the life of Jesus. There are times when he has to be tough with people, we can think of how he interacts with the Pharisees who religiously oppress people (Luke 7, Matthew 15, Matthew 23), how he cleansed the temple and flipped over table because of the sin (John…) and even how in the garden before he was sent to be crucified as he was praying he was sweating drops of blood and yet still saying that his fathers will should be done. (Luke…) When he needed to be he was tough. He spoke with conviction, stood for what was right, fought for the worthwhile things. But he was also tender. Like how he desired to have the kids come to him, how he spoke to the woman who anointed his feet with her tears, how even on the cross he was looking to take care of his mother, how he treated the woman caught in adultery before the Pharisees, how he wept for the death of his close friend. Jesus was gentle, he was that middle ground, that perfect balance and what we should strive to be.
Boys just go with their emotions, which for many men is primarily anger. That’s why Paul contrasts gentleness with violence. Males can be violent aggressive creatures. Men know when it is appropriate and when it isn’t. Boys think punching hard means something. Men are warrior poets who understand emotions yet are willing to fight a worthwhile battle.
So, how then should Real Men live?
First, what do your words sound like and what is the tone that is behind them? This is a great clue as to where you are on the gentleness continuum. Admittedly, I struggle with this one. I come from a house of 4 brothers and we are loud and not always the most gentle people with each other. And of course it becomes a habit of speech. But how you speak and the words you use do reflect your heart. Are they uplifting words? Or are you often sarcastic, and rude? Are you prideful in how you talk and build yourself up? Do you use your words to intimidate those around you? If you do that to a women, then you’re a joke and need to shut up until you learn how to speak. Is your tone giving or taking? Does it breathe life into a situation or person or does it spew death? How you talk is extremely important.
Which leads us to how you react. How you talk is often influenced by your controlled or uncontrolled reactions. Do you react quickly and harshly? Is your temper under control or does it go off in a second? If so you need to repent of being violent. Violence isn’t just physical, it can be emotional. Gentleness reacts slowly, as we are told we need to be, “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…” (James 1:19) Gentleness doesn’t expect everything to go my way or the highway. Gentleness honours the other person even in a moment of disagreement. Pray that the Holy Spirit will help you. Like, when you and your wife, or anyone, has a slight misunderstanding, are you quick to get angry because she isn’t doing it right? Or said something wrong? Be gentle, be humble.
Obviously, how you physically act is also defined by gentleness. Any male who would even hit a woman or child in anger, to prove a point, display dominance, intentionally harm is demonic boy. A gentle man never physically intimidates his wife or children. He doesn’t fight them, he fights for them. Gentleness doesn’t mean that you cant physically be strong and be able to defend your family literally. Your wife should feel safe under your physical protection. Impish boys make their wives do the defending. They make their wives have the backbone. And this is wrong. Men are called the stronger vessel for a reason. Do you physically harm your wife? Stop, get help and repent. Do you intimidate your children? Grow up. Repent. Are you unnecessarily harmful to creation? To plants and animals? Are you destructive? It’s not just ‘being a man’, it’s sin. Repent, and steward God’s creation.
Gentleness is not just restricted to anger or aggression its also a positive attribute that adds to a person. Are you sweet and loving to your wife? Does she know she can come to you at all times, with any concern? Do you call her names or bless her with your words? Do you love her the way she needs to be loved? If not, ask her how you can, repent for not, and grow up. Do you spend quality time with your kids? Do you build them up? Or is that just sissy stuff? Become a Dad, throw out the fake macho act and tenderly love your kids
Boys think that being gentle means being a women, and that is stupid. Gentleness is a deep way the Men get to embody Christ to their families and the world. Men, its time to move past the stoic, macho man definition into true masculinity.
Real Men…take Responsibility
Real Men take responsibility. I wrote a couple weeks ago about how men need to be men of repentance, they need to refrain from blame shifting and man up when they screw up. But, what about when you have no direct fault?
The answer: Even if it’s not your fault, because you are a Man, it’s your responsibility.
This is most obviously seen in the work and life of Jesus. To put the gospel simply, when Adam ate the fruit the human race was plunged into the depravity of sin. We were separated from God and nothing that we could do, could ever repair the relationship. So, Jesus left heaven, incarnated as a man, and lived a perfect sinless life, and then was rejected, abused, and murdered to pay the debt of our sin, and rose again to victory.
Now, the key in Jesus’ life is this, he died as the payment for sin after living a perfect life. The Sin wasn’t his fault, he didn’t do anything wrong, but he took the responsibility on himself to deal with it. Men are called to emulate this in how they treat their wives, families, and even in everyday situations.
Boys try to pass the responsibility on to someone else. Their battlecry is “well it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t do anything to cause this…” Most likely you did. But even besides that, if you are the man in the situation its your responsibility. It’s your job to man up and start taking responsibility.
This responsibility starts with yourself obviously. Taking care of yourself, growing up, and owning up to the demands of life. Then it must move beyond yourself. You take responsibility for the well-being of a woman and take a wife, you take the responsibility of children and become a father who loves his kids and is present for them, he takes responsibility for the well-being of his church, community, city, country, and world. (Not everyone is called to be a husband and father, but statistically, most of you will)
A Man takes responsibility for the state of his marriage and the well being of his wife. Your wife’s relationship with Jesus is not determined by you, but it is your responsibility to make sure she is doing well. Sin that is present is her life is not your fault, but it is your responsibility. The health of your marriage is determined by both of you, but it is your job as the man to be the covenant head (more on this in a later post). She might be to blame for the problem, but it’s your responsibility to fix it. Don’t be a joke and pass the responsibility off onto your wife to do all the work, you need to cover her, pray for her, work for her, serve her. (For you single guys, this applies to you as well. If you have a girlfriend, and are headed toward marriage, you should be trying to cover her with prayer, and encourage her in her relationship with Jesus as well. )
A Man takes responsibility for the next generation. I firmly believe that most men should desire to be a father. (Yes, there are exceptions, but you probably aren’t one) I find that you can tell what males haven’t grown up by the ones who don’t want to have kids, because simply put, they are too selfish and kids will just get in the way. The Bible tells us that children are a blessing and since God himself is revealed as father, there should be a desire to understand that father type love. Boys want to care about themselves only, maybe get a woman for sex and selfish companionship, not covenant love. Men want to love a woman, and raise kids. It’s about responsibility and seeing the next generation go far beyond the current one. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy and Titus that man is responsible for the spiritual health of his kids. His kids sins aren’t his fault, but it is his responsibility to oversee his kids, and loving lead them to Jesus, to be their pastor. Their purity, morality, physical health, mental healthy, media consumption, education, etc. is your responsibility. No one ever said that being a man was easy.
A Man takes responsibility for the health of his church. He serves the church, honors the pastors, tithes to the church. He desires to see the kingdom of God move forward and works to it. He doesn’t complains that things may not be going well, he shuts up and stands up and starts serving. He takes responsibility for his church.
A Man takes responsibility for the well being of his community, city, nation, and the world. He takes responsibility for the place where he dwells. He seeks to bring betterment to the immediate community by creating a proper familial culture in his house and deeply cares for his neighbors. He works for the betterment of his city, seeking to meet the needs. He cares for creation and stewards what God has made.
A Real Man steps up and takes responsibility for himself, for his wife, kids, church, community, city and world. He moves beyond himself and does the hard work of caring for and working to better others.
When God seems Silent..
We all have had times when God seems to have ignored us and shut his mouth. We seek him, we cry out but there is no answer, there is no response and it seems that even at the hardest of times is when God is the quietest. How are we to deal with that?
The first place we have to begin at is that in his word, the Bible, God is always speaking. We know that in the Bible God has given us His words and so they are the foundation upon which we build our lives, and find our peace. Too often we can get caught up in needing to ‘hear’ the Holy Spirit speaking specifically into a situation, but we have to consider that there is so much going on in our hearts that to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit is much more difficult than what it would normally be. We hear ourselves saying what we really want, we hear ourselves speaking what we think we ought to want, we have the enemy speaking lies, we have other people speaking what they want and feel, and the Holy Spirit as well and often times the voices get confused and God seems silent. And so to have a solid word spoken into your situation you need to become fluent in the word. The bible is speaking to you in your present situation. (Hebrews 4:12)
We must always keep in mind when God is silent that God is a sovereign God. It may seem a tad cold to be honest, especially in the face of great trial, but God, if He is who He says He is, is in control. (Ps. 73:28) When Job was robbed by Satan of all that he had and his wife, who had the response that most of us would have, told him to curse God and die (Job…) Job responds the way a man with a deep knowledge of God should respond, not emotionless, but as a man who trusts in God, “ The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job..) Job worshiped God. But as his friends came around and started accusing him of sin that must have caused this trial, Job does lament, as any man would, and calls out to God for an answer. And after 38 chapters God finally speaks, but really just displays His splendor and Sovereignty. He doesn’t belittle Job but He does make the point that He is God, and no one is above God to judge His actions. Jesus is much like this as well. In the garden before the cross Jesus calls out and asks the Father to take the trial from Him, but He finishes the conversation with the Father by saying that not His will but the Father’s be done. It may not be easy, almost cliché, but it is really true that God is the sovereign God and we can trust Him. So, even when God seems silent, we know that He is in control.
In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah is lamenting over his current situation. He says God is basically trying to kill, calling God a lion and a bear waiting to devour him, that he is God’s target for his bow practice. But then in verse 21 he switches his tone and gives a deep key insight into how we can face the moments when God is silent. Hear Jeremiah’s words, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope because of the Lord’s great lovewe are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:21-23) Jeremiah says that the reason he can hope is not that God has come to him and spoken to him in a thundering whirlwind but that he recalled, he remembered who God is, that our God is a God of love, that His love upholds us, that He is compassionate and intimate and faithful. And because of all these things, we have hope. Our hope and trust is independent of our situation. It is founded in the very nature of God.
I know that this doesn’t solve the present trial. People are still sick, stomachs are still hungry, hearts are still broken, but what it does do is give us a new perspective. We can be comforted in that even though we feel as though God might be ignoring us, silent, or even causing our pain, we can know that he is certainly speaking to us, His word is always fresh, and since He is faithful we know that He is right here, “not far from anyone of us.” (Acts 17:27), and the Holy Spirit is speaking.
When you feel like God is silent know that He is not. Know that He is faithful and that His word is living and active. Do not let the circumstance determine your hope or trust, let His character determine it.
Real Men…are Pure
Men desire purity. Men love to respect and uphold the dignity of a woman. Boys desire pleasure. Boys love to use feminine glory for their own personal satisfaction. This post is centered around a series of three verses, Ephesians 5:3, Matthew 5:28, and Job 31:1.
The Standard: Ephesians 5:3 – “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality”
Not even a hint. Not even the smallest little sin is acceptable. We often excuse the impurity and perversions of boys with the statement “boys will be boys”. A ‘real man’ wants sex and gets its. We idolize males who have many sexual exploits and conquests, and we label the pure and holy guys as “feminine”. But a true Man knows better. He doesn’t allow his maleness to determine his purity. Just because he is a man doesn’t mean he can’t be pure, or shouldn’t expect to be. Manhood is a high calling that is unfortunately not on the radar for many boys, especially in the area of sexuality. The standard God has set is high. Not even a hint. Men, are you allowing more than hint in your life? Paul says that if we do allow these things we are participating in idol worship. We commit the gravest sin by worshiping ourselves over God when we do not guard ourselves from impurity. Boys, its time to grow up… especially in this area. It’s time to have some dignity, a clean mind, and respect for the feminine beauty. Stop being a pervert and be a Man.
The Instruction: Matthew 5:28 - “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”
For Jesus, to even look in lust is the same as committing the action of adultery. That’s what Jesus says. Men work to keep their eyes pure. It’s a generally understood principle that men are wired, by God, to be visually stimulated. Men love beauty. But that doesn’t mean, as I said before, that we use it as some excuse for impurity.
Men do not watch pornography, Boys do. Men actually hate it, are repulsed by it, and want to see the whole industry abolished. Their hearts break from the women who end up there. As the Father heart of God weeps for the women, so does a Man. He hates participating in the abuse and is sickened by the boys who do. Boys, love the stuff. They hide away alone and consume the fake intimacy and believe that this is what women are for. They objectify women literally to the point of a sex toy that he gets to use. It’s is a grave perversion and utterly selfish.
Kids are seeing porn by 11 years old, and are being fed lies about sex and intimacy. Sex has been reduced to and fun activity, even casually between friends. But a Man knows and lives better. He heeds the words of Jesus and values the intimate bond between a husband and wife as a sacred thing, not a selfish, exploitive act. Women, don’t be naïve, boys who are hooked on porn have perverted, twisted, selfish perspectives on sex and the ‘requirements’ of the woman. He wants conquest not commitment. Do not settle for the porn guy. He is a bum, he is not worth your time.
Sexual sin is highly selfish. That is the deepest issue at work in this situation. Boys are simply concerned about how to get the pleasure now, regardless of the cost, the abuse, and the hurt it might cause. Then, these boys get married and nothing changes. Their wife becomes a sex toy not a lover. He uses her for his pleasure and then passes her aside without desiring intimacy. He checks out every girl that walks by, and leaves his wife insecure beyond belief. He is simply an idiot. He needs to grow up.
Being at a Youth convention recently, surround by hundreds of teenage boys really shows you how prevalent impurity has become. (Yes, teenage girls aren’t the most modest girls out there anymore…) Boys all weekend starring down girls and checking everything out. You can see the lust that fills their eyes, and why wouldn’t they do it? Every influence they have tells them this is what men do. Movies, music, TV, friends, fathers and brothers, who are glorified boys show them men look with lust and desire. But true Men desire purity.
The Covenant – Job 31:1 “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl”
Men can control themselves. They are not obsessed with sex, they don’t desire to use and abuse women for selfish gain. They honor and respect purity in themselves and the purity of women. Men desire commitment and not conquest, he desires to give himself fully, to one woman for his life. He has enough patience and humility to wait until the wedding day. He doesn’t make excuses. A Man doesn’t look to porn, he hates it. His heart breaks for it, he weeps over it. And like Job, he makes a covenant promise, to God and himself, to his wife (when he gets one), that he will not look upon any women lustfully because he desires purity.
Boys can’t even fathom this. They will ask, How can I not look? A question that disguises a deep seated selfishness and perversion of the goodness of sex that exists within him. He is not willing to put others first and seek righteousness. If you are this boy, I urge, come to Jesus, repent, and stop. Stop your foolish ways. Have some respect. See women as they should be seen - beautiful creations that bring delight to this world, not objects for your pleasure. That false understanding is sick.