Character

Two Reasons We Drift from Community

We have a conflicted relationship with relationships. We lament our lack of community and express a desire to be known, feeling deep pain when we notice its absence, yet our genuine desire for community is unknowingly undermined by our own habits. We drift away from community. We see it. We want it. Yet we drift away from it like an unanchored boat drifting from shore, pulled by the winds and waves of selfishness and shame.

In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve to be in community. God saw Adam's lack of human relationships and said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18)." When Adam saw Eve, he sang, declaring the goodness of the companion God made for him. God, existing in perfect relationship within the Trinity, created man to know and be known by another human. We were made for relationship.

In the fall, our relationships were broken. Our relationship with God and our relationship with others. Adam and Eve saw their nakedness and covered themselves with fig leaves. When they heard God walking in the garden, they hid from His presence. We were created for relationship, but because of the fall, we drift from community.

If we want genuine community, it will not happen without initiative and intentionality. We do not drift toward relationship with others, but away from relationship with others and toward isolation. We see it in Adam and Eve's response to the fall, and we see it in our own lives. If we want to fight the drift, we must know why we drift. Here are two reasons:

Selfishness

The selfishness of Adam and Eve is displayed in their first sin and also their response. They selfishly disobeyed the commandment of their loving creator. They pleased themselves and questioned the truth of God. In response, they selfishly passed the blame and took no responsibility.

Selfishness continues to undermine our relationships today. First, we sabotage community when we are selfish with our time and with our lives. Real relationships require us to seek the good of the other. Genuine community requires we consider their needs above our own. We undermine relationships when we fail to adjust our schedules to make it happen. Selfishly, we don't want community if it imposes on our lives. We only want relationships if they fit conveniently into our busy schedule.

Selfishness also causes us to drift from community because we put unfair expectations on relationships. We impose our own needs, desires and ideals on the relationship we want, and fail to see that we have made it all about us. We fail to see that it isn't real community. When we want relationships to fulfill our own needs, without a desire to meet the needs of others, we sabotage community. We drift away because unmet expectations lead us to question whether we want those relationships at all - and we end up blaming the other person, when it was us that created the problems all along.

If you want community, you must fight the selfishness that will make you want it on your own terms. You must fight the selfishness that will only take community if it is convenient. It isn't always convenient. And it won't always go as planned.

Shame

In response to their first sin, shame also led to a breakdown in the relationship between Adam and Eve. They saw their nakedness and felt a need to cover up with fig leaves. They heard God in the garden and felt a need to hide. Shame makes us want to hide. Shame makes us feel unworthy. Shame leads us to drift from community because it makes us afraid someone will see our sin.

Christian community is meant to be a safe place for us to confess sin and be reminded of the gospel. Of all people, our fellow Christians should know what it means to be forgiven, and God calls us to offer forgiveness to others. When we feel shame, that is precisely when we need community the most. When we feel unable to speak the gospel to ourselves, it is then that we need our fellow Christian to speak it to us. The words of our brother or sister remind our weary hearts of the truth of God's word. The words of our fellow Christian are a potent potion for the wound in our heart.

We drift from community because of shame. In our shame, we fear what others might say when we are "found out." If we want genuine community, we must fight our fear and walk in the light with our fellow believers. And we must affirm one another in the gospel, so we know where to find fresh water when our soul is parched. In your shame, if you find yourself drifting from community, do whatever you can to fight your way back.

Four Questions to Ask Before you Post

Have you ever posted something to Facebook and then wished you hadn't? Or tweeted 140 characters you later decided to delete? Social media can be a minefield and Christians aren't always walking through unscathed. We are often the ones setting off the unseen bombs. Like most tools or technologies, social media itself is morally neutral - it can be used for good or ill. But how do we use it well?

Here are four questions you can ask before you post, comment, share, retweet, like... The next time you see your friend share a quote that offends you, stop and ask these questions before you comment. The next time you want to share an article or video, stop and ask a few questions. The next time you want to post that picture or personal update, take a moment and ask yourself these four questions.

What is my motivation for sharing?

Of all the questions, this is the most central and necessary. It gets at the heart of the matter. We can often engage in social media in response to a deeper heart issue. Rather than deal with the real garbage going on in our our lives, we cover it up through the facade of a perfect life, but no matter how many pictures we share or positive reports we give, our reality will find its way to the surface.

We can also use social media as a weapon. We wield it in defense of a cause or perspective, without care or concern for who we hurt or ostracize. We attack and we berate and never consider why. What is our motivation?

The public personas on social media are numerous and what motivates our desire to share or post varies as much as our personalities. I cannot possibly provide an example for each. But it is a necessary question for you to ask. Why am I posting? What is my motivation?

Is this intended to build God's Kingdom or my kingdom?

This question gets at a very particular motivation. Am I posting this to build God's Kingdom? Or am I trying to build my own? Platform building is its own industry today, with books written, podcasts recorded, seminars delivered and resources given, all in the name of teaching people how to build a platform. Pastors, churches, authors, business owners and more are using social media to make a name for themselves.

Not everyone using social media to build a platform is interested primarily in building their own kingdom, but it can be a narrow path to walk. Even if we are not interested in building a platform, we can so often use social media to draw attention to ourselves. We are constantly looking for the red dot to pop because we want, we need, to see the new like, the new comment, the new share, or the new retweet. All in the interest of helping us feel a little better about ourselves.

Let me be clear, sharing a picture of your son because you want to celebrate a new milestone and share it with your friends and family is not personal kingdom building. It is one of the joys of social media. Knowing and sharing in the lives of our friends and family is beautiful, but if you are constantly playing the game of choosing which life event you want to share, because you know it will garner the most engagement from others, it is a dangerous arena to play in.

Is this unnecessarily controversial?

Controversy is inevitable. If you want to say anything of substance in the world, you will likely offend someone along the way. In asking this question, I am not suggesting you live a life in which you do nothing but please the people around you. That is a different sort of problem. I use the word unnecessarily because sometimes we do choose controversy for controversy's sake. There are bloggers, public figures, articles and news sites who build their following on the knowledge that rabble-rousing draws a crowd.

The question you and I need to ask before we post or share on social media is whether it is unnecessarily controversial. The gospel can be offensive, and sharing something about the gospel which causes a stir does not fit into this category. The gospel is necessarily controversial at times because it is unavoidably controversial at times.

If you find two or three articles which represent your thoughts on recent public events, and you feel you must share one, choose the one that is not out to pick a fight. You can tell by the tone of the article. You can tell by the way its creator treats people who disagree. Don't create strife where it isn't needed.

Have I read, watched or listened before I respond or share?

This question should go without saying, but unfortunately it must be said. If you are going to share an article, read it first. If you are going to respond to a video someone else posted, watch it first. I see so many people share something for its headline, without reading its contents. Or I see a string of comments arguing a point the article never attempts to make. This is a simple question, but too few people are asking it before they post. Have I read, watched or listened before I post, share, comment or tweet?

Final Thoughts

The tone of this article is somewhat serious, but social medial doesn't always need to be so serious. You can have fun with it. Whether it is a funny comment, a late show clip, a satire article or a comical meme, you can enjoy yourself on social media. Don't take yourself too seriously, but be thoughtful about what you share. 

How does wisdom deter a quick temper?

Do you know someone who has a reputation for being quick to anger? When you think about your interactions with them, you get the feeling you are always walking on eggshells. Everything in us wants to avoid them whenever possible - even if it requires extra work, we don't want to incur the wrath of their sensitive and irritable disposition. An even more penetrating question - are you that person? Are you the angry person whom others avoid?

Even if you are not known as an "angry person," you do get angry at times. Every one is liable to a temper. I never thought of myself as an angry person before, but as I feel the weight of more and more responsibility in life, it is like an amplifier to my sin. Under the pressures of pastoring, parenting, husbanding, home-owning, and more, I can be a bit quicker to anger than I ought. Even if you and I do not have reputations as angry people, we must admit that at times we can be too quick to anger.

There is a proverb which says that "good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11)." This makes me ask the question, how does good sense make one slow to anger? How does wisdom deter a quick temper? As I have pondered this question, here are some of my conclusions.

Quick tempers assume two things

The first assumption of a quick temper is that we are somehow better than the person on the receiving end of our anger. Our pride tells us that we are smarter than them, they are an inconvenience to us and they are not worthy of our patience. A quick temper assumes we are better than we actually are. This is a false assumption. This is foolishness. In the end, this leads to a quick temper.

The second assumption of being quick to anger is that we know the other person's motives, and assume the worst. We do not stop to understand the other person's situation or what has led them to do whatever it is that has rubbed us the wrong way. We assume we know before asking or understanding. This leads us to justify our anger, because we tell ourselves we have been wronged in some way and therefore, they deserve of our wrath. This also is foolishness and is the opposite of wisdom. It is foolish to assume we know another's motives, what has happened in their day or the intention of their heart.

Jesus corrections these two assumptions

In many ways, quick tempers assume the best about ourselves and the worst about the other. Jesus tells us to assume the worst about our own motives and the best about theirs. Jesus said it was hypocritical to look for the speck in our brother's eye without seeing the log in our own (Mt. 7:1-5). Good sense reminds us to consider our own sin first and do the hard work of pulling out the log before going after their speck. Quick tempers are prideful and ignorant of our own sin.

A person who is fast to anger walks around the world assuming everyone else has a plank in their eye, and is reluctant to even consider they might have a speck in their own, let alone a log. This is foolishness. Jesus reverses these assumptions. He says, deal with the log in your own eye first, then discuss the speck in your brother's. Jesus doesn't say to ignore the speck, he just says deal with your log first. He tell us to evaluate ourselves first and then confront them. The Bible does not say anger is foolish, only getting there too quickly.  

What my Kids' Bedtimes Taught me About my Heart

Bedtimes. When they come, my kids’ room can feel like a battlefield and the victory of sleep is not easily won. I would like to say bedtimes are the most peaceful moments of our family’s day. I would like to say we have a perfect routine and each night we sing our songs, say our prayers, get the kids tucked into bed, give them a kiss on their foreheads and they snuggle in for a deep sleep, not to be heard from until the morning.

That is simply not the reality in our home. We do have a routine, but it does not always go as planned and it nearly always has interruptions. And once the lights are turned off and we leave the room, the kids have perfectly timed and flawlessly executed stall tactics.

Lest I leave you disappointed, I need to tell you now, I have not discovered the perfect strategy to consistently leave your bedtime battles with a peaceful and simple victory. This is not so much about bedtimes, but what they have taught me about the battleground of my own heart. Bedtimes, and parenting in general, has helped me see what deeper idols lie beneath the surface. Peeling back the layers of sin can be ugly and parenting has a way chipping through the layers pretty quickly. My kids' bedtimes have taught me that I love control and comfort too much.

"But dad, I want what I want"

My son's transparency about his desires has helped me see my own more clearly. Earlier this year, when he would not get his way, he began to tell me, "but Dad, I want what I want." He was brutally honest, not knowing his statement betrayed his own selfishness. I began to realize I often feel the same way. Like my son, I really just want what I want.

What I have begun to see is that my experience at bedtime is highly influenced by my own heart idols – by my desire to get what I want. My frustrations can be disproportionate to the good and right motivation I have for my children's obedience and need for sleep. At some point, I am not so much motivated by what is good for them, but I am motivated by my own comfort and control. I just want them to listen, because my idol for control wants to be listened to. I want them to listen, because my idol of comfort wants to move on with the rest of my night.

Their behavior and my heart

Sleep is good and necessary for kids. Learning obedience is good and necessary for kids. Therefore, I stick in the battle for bedtimes, for their good. All the while, I wage war on my own heart idols. It’s important that we distinguish between their behavior and our hearts.

My heart issues do not give my kids the freedom to do whatever they want. We might be inclined to give up on some aspects of parenting, because at times we find ourselves having selfish motives. But we should not give up. We must pray. Repent. And trust in the gospel. Don’t allow your heart idols to stop you from following through on what you know is right and good for your kids.

Not just at bedtime

Bedtime shines a spotlight on my heart, but I have begun to see that my idols of comfort and control are present all over my home. When I walk through the door at the end of a long day at work, my idol of comfort tells me that I deserve to sit down and rest for a bit. When I am bombarded with requests to change a diaper, read a book, play with cars, set the table, take out the garbage, or build a tower, I can feel my idol of comfort fighting to say no, I just got home, I need to sit down for a bit.

My idol of control goes wild when my daughter is taking her brother’s toy… again… In that moment, I don’t want to patiently give her correction and instruction again, my idol of control wants, no demands, that she listen. In those moments, I am not as concerned about helping her understand the impact of her decisions, because I am too preoccupied with my idol of control.

Fighting our Idols

Bedtimes have illuminated some of the ugly that still wages war against my soul. I am not content to allow these patterns to continue, so when I am fighting on the battleground of bedtime, I am reminded there is also a war raging on the battleground of my heart. I cannot ignore what parenting is revealing about my idols, so I continue the lifelong habit of repentance and faith.

When sin is revealed, no matter where or when, even during the daily routine of bedtimes, I am called to repent. I am called to recognize my sin, admit my wrongs and turn away. Sometimes, this will require me to humbly ask for my kids’ forgiveness. In faith, I also remind myself of the beauty of the cross and the grace Jesus offers. As I model this for my children, they get a taste of God’s goodness – which is more important than an extra thirty minutes of sleep anyway.

We Fight Sin by Loving God

Sin is attractive. It is alluring. If it wasn't, we wouldn't be drawn to it so often. Through personal experience and conversations with others, I know sin can feel overwhelming powerful at times. In response, we often enter our battles with sin carrying a pea shooter for a weapon, while sin crouches like a powerful lion. The deeply entrenched idols of our hearts, which drive our sinful behaviors, can not be fought through a few well-devised strategies.

Two Ways we Try to Fight Sin

Sin can take on many forms. Whether it is an addiction to pornography, struggles with anger, persistent laziness, engaging in gossip or a pursuit of our own glory, sin can pounce on us when we least expect it. I have seen two common tactics to fight sin, which can be helpful, but are woefully insufficient alone. The first is that we develop strategies to induce behavior modification. For example, we might install monitoring software on our computers, so that when we are tempted to look at pornography, we don't because we know someone will see the report and hold us accountable. This is a good and helpful strategy. I think of this strategy as "building fences" and I wrote about it in another post titled, Fighting Sin by Building Fences. It is necessary, but alone, it is insufficient to battle the deeper idols which drive sin.

The second common strategy is to demonize whatever is leading us to sin. If I don't want to be lazy anymore, I remind myself over and over that slothfulness is sin. I remind myself that "a slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich (Proverbs 10:4)." This can be a helpful strategy, but it does have two problems. First, it can lead us to respond in extreme ways and walk off the road into the opposite ditch. As we demonize laziness, we can make an idol out of ambition and neglect the type of intentional rest God also wants for us. The second problem with this strategy is that we often end up calling evil that which God has given us as good. As we remind ourselves about the dangers of laziness, we often loop in all forms of rest. Even those God has given to us for our good, and call it all evil. For another example, when we demonize pornography (as we should), we can often make all sexuality to be evil in our minds, even though God has given it to be enjoyed in the right ways.

Why is Sin so Appealing?

In our battle with sin, we need to ask ourselves why sin is so appealing. What makes us drawn to it? One of the primary answers is that sin promises to satisfy our desires. It offers solutions to our deepest longings. If we long to be accepted and included, we may engage in gossip, because it makes us feel included. If we have a juicy piece of information to share, then we get to have an audience. We get to feel important, even if only for a couple minutes. Or if we want to be listened to and respected, we might respond in anger. Stern glances and loud voices seem to demand other's attention. Our anger gets us what we want and fulfills the desire we have for respect.

Sin offers us fulfillment, but it can never ultimately deliver on its promise. Gossip might gain us some acceptance immediately, but in the long run, it undermines our relationships with others and erodes the sort of relationships we seek. Anger might gain some initial respect, but it will never develop the sort of relationship that produces long-term respect from others. Sin is appealing at first, but cannot deliver on its promise.

Fighting Sin at its Roots

In the end, we need a much deeper solution to our sin. We cannot simply modify our behavior because that does not deal with the deeper longings that sin promises to fulfill. Behavioral sin is the result of heart idols. Sin has layers, and as we peel them back, we uncover those hidden motivations and desires that drive our sin. If we want to fight sin, we need to address them at their source. Otherwise, we are just mowing over weeds. At first, it looks good, but eventually the weeds will grow back. Another pass with the lawnmower is another temporary solution. Like weeds, we need to deal with the root cause of our sin. (see post, Understanding the 3-Layers of Sin)

At its most basic level, sin pursues something that only God can offer. The longing for significance that drives the pursuit of our own glory, is ultimately found in relationship with God. The desire for love that leads us to pursue acceptance through gossip or our need for respect which we seek in our angry outbursts are ultimately found only in the cross. The significance we want is found in our identity as God's children. Love is found in the unconditional acceptance of God through the blood of Jesus. Respect is established in the humble service that Jesus models for us and then calls us to as his followers.

A Surpassing Love for God

In the end, our battle with sin is fought by loving God. A surpassing love for God is the great remedy for our sin. As we experience the goodness of God, it will reveal the insufficient offer of sin. Matthew Henry once wrote, "The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks." As our affections increase for our savior, sin become less attractive because we see it for the folly that it is. Like good literature - once you learn to appreciate quality writing, you can no longer waste your time on drivel. When you gain a surpassing love for God, sin loses its appeal. In the battle with our sin, we need to fight it on all fronts. We must employ multiple strategies, but we absolutely cannot neglect our need for a robust love for God. You will never win the battle against sin without it.

Meek Does Not Equal Weak

Jesus tells us that there is this type of person in the world who is "blessed." He says, "Blessed are the meek... (Mt. 5:5)," and we are confronted with this small, four-letter word. Our tendency is to conflate meek with weak. To assume that meekness equates passivity. This is not what I see in the Bible, or more specifically, in the life of Jesus. He was meek, but he was not weak. Interestingly, his accusers may have assumed weakness on his part at times. They mocked Jesus, suggesting that if he was truly God, he could come down from the cross and save himself. They mistook Jesus' meekness for weakness. 

Like those who crucified Jesus, our culture doesn't have much of a category for a meek person. This is a problem, because it is a character quality the Bible advocates as a virtue. There is a controlled and very intentional element to meekness. It is not an apathetic. It is not weak. It is not passive. It requires a significant amount of humility and self-control. Meekness requires a significant amount of strength.

What does it mean to be meek?

Meekness is the inward attitude that finds its counterpart in the outward behavior of gentleness. They are related, and a deficiency in one will naturally point to a deficiency in the other. If you are looking for the outward evidence of meekness, it would be gentleness. Gentleness has to do with the way we conduct ourselves toward others and the manner in which we treat them. This is seen most prominently in the life of Jesus, when he stood before his mockers as they shared their false testimony, offering no response or justification. Responding with gentleness toward those who are brash and rude requires strength. It is not weak. It is strong.

A meek person possesses an inward contentment that is intentionally and patiently submissive to the adversity of life, without needing to seek justification or retribution. They do not resent God in the face of the difficulties they experience, whether at the hand of another human or the result of natural disasters. They trust God and the goodness He wants to bring through His wise and loving purposes.

Meekness is not passive or weak. This sort of trust and confidence in God requires a great deal of strength.

Why do people perceive meekness and ambition to be at odds?

Every virtue has a corresponding vice and if left unchecked can lead to character problems that are inconsistent with the gospel. In the same way that meekness can be associated with weakness, ambition and strength can often be associated with pride. Misguided ambition leads to an inflated view of ourselves and the pursuit of selfish gain. But that does not need to be the case.

In the end, the reason people assume meekness and ambition are at odds is because of a misunderstanding of a Biblical and gospel-saturated definition of these words. When we understand that ambition for the things of God leads to self-denial rather than self-promotion, and that Biblical meekness requires great strength rather than passive weakness, we begin to see how they can fit together.

How do we balance gospel-centered ambition and meekness?

When we look at the life of Jesus, we see a confluence of these two qualities. Jesus was very ambitious. He came to save the world. What could be more ambition than that? He came to do the impossible - to make guilty sinners into righteous men and women. He came and brought the Kingdom of God with him. Jesus calls us to continue His mission of making disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). When our ambition is directed toward the things of God - the advancement of His Kingdom, the love of others and the worship of Him, then our ambition is pointed in the right direction.

Jesus also maintained meekness and humility while on earth. Based on the example of Christ, Paul gave the Philippians this exhortation:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)

Jesus joyfully submitted to the will of the Father. Even through deep anguish, he was meek and humble in the face of suffering (Mt 26:38-44). Jesus was meek, but he was far from weak. We are called to exhibit these same qualities. Jesus frees us to do so, both in his example and his work on the cross. Through the gospel, Jesus gives our ambition a God-oriented purpose, and through the gospel, Jesus gives us the confidence and strength we need to face our adversity with meekness.

Asking for Forgiveness Before Grace

Creating genuine reconciliation with others is not very easy and with some relationships, it can feel impossible. When we hurt another person or commit a sin against them, it is important that we do what we can to reconcile that relationship. Even when we do, we cannot control another person's actions. We cannot force them to forgive us, but we can do our best to seek genuine reconciliation.

There are a number of steps along the path of repairing a relationship, and some of the steps really must be in the right order. One common mistake is that we jump to the step of asking for grace before we have done the hard work of asking for forgiveness. What I mean to say, is that we ask the other person to overlook our offense without taking any responsibility for what we did.

I am prone to do this in my marriage. If I have sinned against Megan or failed to follow through on something I had committed to doing, I so often want to dismiss my faults and ask Megan to just overlook my offense. Now, sometimes the ability to overlook an offense and graciously move on is a virtue (Proverbs 19:11). But the advice of that proverb is for the one being offended, not the offender. If I have done the wrong, when I am being confronted, it is not my job to point out the virtue that would be found in them overlooking that offense. My job is to take responsibility for my sinful actions and then ask for forgiveness. If you have committed a wrong and need to pursue reconciliation with someone, here are four steps that might help.

Ask God to help

Before you start to talk with the other person, talk with God. Ask him to help you. Ask him to change your heart and ask him to soften the other person's heart. It doesn't need to be a long prayer, but can be quite simple. We can follow the example of Nehemiah, in which he is asked a question by the king. Before he responds, it says that he "prayed to the God of heaven (Nehemiah 2:4)." In the brief moments between the question being asked and a response given, he takes a moment to pray. We can pray like that.

A short prayer might be all you have time for, and it is a helpful habit to get into for any circumstance. Take a moment to pray for God's strength. In some cases, you may need a longer time of prayer. It might include some time of journaling, reading our Bibles or meditating on Scripture. 

There are times when I know I am in the wrong, but I can't bring myself to take ownership for what I have done. These are the times I need to take a bit longer to pray. Eventually, God convicts my heart and I am willing and able to honestly take responsibility for my actions and begin the process of reconciliation.

Ask for forgiveness first

Once you have prayed, you need to take the hard step of taking responsibility for your actions. Part of asking for forgiveness is admitting your failures. If you are unwilling to own your mistakes, then you are not truly asking for forgiveness. This is not easy. I have sometimes said to my wife, "I am sorry for the way you feel about what I did." That is not a genuinely repentant statement. It is subtly manipulative. When I say something like that, I am not apologizing for what I did, but the fact that the other person is mad at me for what I did.

In the process of reconciliation, we need to take the hard step of being honest about what we have done and taking responsibility for it. No, it isn't easy, but it is necessary. Own what you have done. Take responsibility. Sincerely repent. State your sin clearly and then ask for forgiveness.

Ask for grace second

We so often want to demand grace from the other person without taking responsibility first. I spent six years working in higher education, and sometimes I would meet with students who had broken school policies (ie. drinking alcohol, stealing copyright music, breaking visitation hours, etc.). When I worked at a state school, the students generally just took the consequence and moved on. When I worked at a Christian school, I was disappointed with the way some students would respond. It was not uncommon for a student to ignore their responsibility and say, "Aren't we all Christians? Shouldn't there be grace?" This was a misunderstanding of the gospel and its application to our lives.

God wants us to take responsibility for our sin through repentance and asking for forgiveness. Grace is always available, but we need to take responsibility first. Taking responsibility sometimes even means incurring consequences. Other adults don't hand out consequences to one another like parents to a child, but there are natural and sometimes even formal consequences for our actions. We need to take responsibility first and ask for grace second.

Remember the Gospel

You can own your mistakes and sin, regardless of how the other person responds because you can be confident that when you are repentant, God has forgiven you through Jesus. Even when people around us respond with condemnation, withholding forgiveness and grace, we can know that Jesus does not. "There is therefore now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1)." This doesn't change the pain you might experience from a broken relationship or the sorrow you feel when others don't offer to you the grace Jesus has freely given them, but you are still called to own your sin and failures.

You can do it, knowing that you have been made right before the God of the universe. He pardons you. He offers forgiveness and grace. He does not withhold reconciliation. You are still a blood-bought child of the King. You are still righteous in Christ. Remember the gospel. Speak its truth to over yourself. Recall your identity in Christ.

You can own your mistakes. You can own your sin. You can name it and take responsibility for it, all the while knowing that God still loves you. The gospel frees us to be real and honest about our failures. Own it first by asking for forgiveness. And then, being found in Christ, you can confidently ask for grace. But don't ask for grace without owning your sin first.

Should our Good Deeds be Seen? Or not?

What do you do when Jesus makes two statements that seem to contradict one another? At one point, Jesus tells us we are like a city on a hill, and that we should "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Mt. 5:6)." Not too much later, during the same speech, in fact, Jesus warns us about doing things so that we will be seen by others (Mt. 6:5; 6:16). So which is it? Do we let our light shine? Do we let our good deeds be seen? Or do we keep them hidden?

Often, what seems like a contradiction at first, can be worked out by taking the time to ask some questions and consider the intent of each statement. When we take the time, we can gain increased clarity and Jesus' words can bring transformation to our lives.

The key difference between Jesus' two statements is the outcome of each. One results in glory to the Father, and the other in glory for the one doing the good deed. In the first, we let our light shine because it radiates the good of the Father. In the second, we make our good deeds known so we can personally gain the praise of others. You cannot control the response of others, so the more pressing question for you and me is: "what is our motivation for doing the good deed?" Are we aiming at praise for the Father? Or are we aiming at praise for ourselves?

Here are three questions that can help you discern whether your good deeds should be seen by others. Or whether you are falling into the trap of the hypocrites that Jesus confronts.

What do I want people to do when they see my good deed?

This question gets at our motivation. When people see my good deed, what do I want them to do in response? Am I craving their praise and affirmation? Or am I wanting them to give praise to the Father?

Do you daydream? Do you ever imagine future scenarios in your mind and how they will play out? If so, how do you imagine people responding to your good deeds? Do you imagine them giving glory to the Father in response? Or do you imagine them giving praise to you for all the good things you have done?

Let's be honest. This is actually something we are all prone to do at times. I am not immune to this motivation. And neither are you. Jesus is calling us to be mindful about whose praise we are after and pursue the glory of the Father when we engage in good deeds.

Does my good deed necessitate a public act?

One question you can ask yourself is if the good deed you are doing necessitates someone else knowing about it. Certain good deeds, by their very nature, will be seen. Certain good deeds are done in the public arena, and cannot be done in a private way. If you are going to have a clothing drive for the homeless in your community, you will need to tell someone about it or you will not have a very successful clothing drive. The nature of that good deed requires that others know.

In the gospels, Jesus is critical of people who are fasting and giving money in a very public way. Fasting does not require that others know you are fasting. Giving money does not require that others know you have given money.

You can ask yourself. Does this good deed, by its very nature, require that other see it? If the good deed does not require that others know you are doing it, then that good deed doesn't need to be seen. Allow the deed itself to determine whether it is seen.

Am I going out of my way, so that I can be seen?

This question has some overlap with the previous one but brings another angle to test whether our good deed should be seen. Another way of asking the question might be, "in order for my good deed to be seen, have I gone out of my way to ensure that it is noticed by others?"

We want God to be glorified in our good deeds, so it might follow that we want our good deeds to be seen. We may genuinely have the motivation of other seeing our good deeds so they can give glory to God, but when we begin to go out of our way in order to ensure they are seen, then I think it is a good indication we are crossing a line.

Even if we believe our motivations are pure, if we are going out of our way to be seen, I think we have stepped outside of being the "city on a hill" Jesus describes. When a city is seen in the distance, the light shines on the horizon and is a relief to the weary travelers who approach. But the lights were not made so that travelers can see them. The light of a city serves a purpose for the city. It helps the residents walk from place to place and go about their business. The purpose of a city's light is not to be seen by those outside the city, but for those living in the city.

In the same way, the good of our good deeds is found in the very reason we are doing them. If we are raising money to fight human trafficking, the good of that deed is found in the fight against injustice. The light shines in the good deed itself. The fact that someone might observe this good deed and then praise God is not our responsibility. We are responsible for doing the good, and if asked, to give a reason for the good we do. People might see that good deed on the horizon, like a weary traveler seeing the light of a city, and praise God as a result. But whether others see it or not, whether they praise God or not, there is still good in the deed. And so we do it anyway.

 

Four Ways Words Impact the World

When words pass the threshold of our mouths, they can never be put back, no matter how much we wish they could. Once spoken, the things we say enter into existence, and with them comes the impact of those words. Sometimes they enter the world and offer a helping hand to someone in need, other times, our words enter the world like a right hook, landing on the cheek of a loved one. Have you ever said something you immediately wished you could have back? Have your words ever exited your mouth like a fist rather than a hand of help?

Our words are powerful. They are something we ought to consider more intentionally, and speak more thoughtfully. It must be said that we are imperfect, and will say things we regret. In those instances, we must be ready to repent and seek reconciliation. Even so, by the power of God's Spirit, we must also seek to gain control over our tongue and give it direction.

James exhorts his readers to give consideration to their tongue (James 3:1-12, and in view of his reminder, here are four ways our words impact the world.

Speak words with humility

James starts with a reminder that we should seek to teach with humility. This is less about the way words impact the world, and more about the manner in which we speak them into the world. He says that "not many of you should become teachers," because those "who teach will be judged with greater strictness (Js.3:1)." When we choose to speak, especially as one with authority to teach, we must approach that role with humility. It is a weighty responsibility, and one that will be judged with greater strictness. We must enter into that role with humble hearts.

Every week, as I send a new article out into the world wide web, I do it with a bit of timidity. I am on a journey of sanctification myself, and like each of you reading this, I am imperfect in my actions. I write as someone who is still in process, and yet, when I write an article, I step into a role of teaching. It is weighty, and I feel the burden. My prayer for myself, and for anyone who aspires to teach and write, is that we would do so with great humility and a sense of the responsibility for the task.

Ideas can change the world

This doesn't necessarily come from the text in James, but something I have thought about a lot recently. Two connections from this passage warrant me mentioning it here. First, the reference to teachers. Words are a primary medium for teaching. Words are powerful, and teachers must use them well. Second, the mention of the disproportionate power of words relative to the size of the tongue. Words are powerful and God uses them to change the world.

I have recently gotten into listening to audio books when I am driving, running, cleaning or working on house projects. Through audio books, I have been able to listen to numerous biographies and history books. One theme I have noticed is that people who have had a significant impact on the world nearly always know how to use the power of ideas and words. Whether for evil, like Adolf Hitler or pro-slavery advocates in American history, or for good, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jonathan Edwards or Martin Luther.

As pastors, church leaders and Christ-followers, we have the most powerful message in the world. The good news of Jesus Christ, which permeates ever area of life. I have been challenged to consider more deeply what God teaches and how I can communicate these truths in clear and compelling ways. Words are a powerful medium to shape our world and culture. God spoke the world into being, Jesus came as the word made flesh, God's primary way of communicating with us is through His Word, and as his people, we are called to use words to serve God's mission in the world.

The tongue is more powerful than its size

It can be easy to take our words for granted, because they flow from our mouths so readily and originate from such a small part of our body. What James' letter so masterfully communicates is that the tongue has disproportionate power given its size. He utilizes some analogies to help us get a picture - the relatively small bit in a horse's mouth, which allows a rider to direct the powerful animal's movements, or the small rudder that enables a captain to steer large sea vessels, or the small fire that can set a forest ablaze. Each of these images are meant to remind us that even though our tongue is small, it can give rise to powerful words.

Further, the tongue is not easy to control. We can so quickly let something slip from our mouths that is like poison to another. Words can take on the form of many different weapons - the poisonous spread of rumor and gossip, the blunt force of vulgar yelling, the arrow like precision of a well timed smear or the suffocating force of an onslaught of insult. These weapons of verbal war flow from us, often without thinking twice. Sometimes we regret what we have said, and other times we don't even realize the pain we inflict.

Consider the words you use and the way you speak to those around you, often to the ones you love the most. First, recognize the power of the things you say. Do not take lightly the impact your words can have on the people around you. Second, ask God to help you gain control over your tongue. It is a powerful instrument, and one which cannot be easily mastered. You need God's help, so don't hesitate to ask.

The tongue has disproportionate power given its size.

Words can bless or curse

The final way our words impact the world is through the dichotomous ends of blessing or cursing. James comments on the fact that with the same mouth we "bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God (Js 3:9)." We use the same mouth to sing worship songs on Sunday and fling words of insult that afternoon. We praise God with our lips and then use them to defame people made in His image. Our words can either speak life or death. They can bring blessing or cursing.

James is calling his audience to fight this inconsistent behavior when he writes, "these things ought not be so (3:10)." The mouths we use to praise God, for such a good and glorious purpose, should not be used to also degrade His people. Our words have the power to heal or hurt. With our mouths, we have the ability to extend a helping hand or swing a fist. Ask God to help you master your tongue this week, and use it as a means of blessing to those around you.

"But Dad, I want what I want!"

Four Ways to be Less Selfish

My son has learned a new phrase. When he is frustrated and not getting his way, he says, "But Dad, I want what I want." In some ways, it is an important developmental step for his little four year old mind. Recognizing that he gets frustrated because he isn't getting what he wants can be good. Learning how to respond appropriately to that desire is something we are still working on...

But his phrase has also been illuminating for me. Hearing him say "I want what I want" has shined a spotlight on my own selfish tendencies. I have been reminded that my heart is prone toward selfishness. And it has been very clear that the most common reason behind my anger or frustration is that I am not getting what I want.

When I get frustrated with the other drivers on the road, it is usually because I am not getting what I want on the roadway. Wouldn't life be so much easier if everyone knew what I wanted and made it happen... When I get angry at my children, it is often because I feel personally wronged, because they have not done what I wanted. In conflict with my wife, a barrier for my own repentance and reconciliation is often that I don't want to give up what I want.

My son's own revelation has led me to recognize I am far too often motivated by my own selfish desires. At my core, God is still working on my heart and still changing my desires. It has been a helpful reminder as I fight my sin of selfishness. Here are four ways I think we can be less selfish.

Remember that Jesus was unselfish toward us

One way to disarm our selfish hearts is to remind ourselves that Jesus was unselfish toward us. There is truly no greater example of selfless and sacrificial love than Jesus dying on the cross to redeem us from our helpless plight. Jesus was innocent. Rather than selfishly keeping his innocence, he gave it away to us. In fact, I would argue that keeping his own innocence wouldn't have been selfish at all, because it was rightly his. But rather than keep what was his, he gave it to us. And in return he got our sin. He took our shame and our guilt, nailing it to the cross.

Jesus even prayed in the garden that this cup would pass, but ultimately he wanted to do the will of the Father. Jesus was entirely selfless toward us. When we feel a desire to be selfish, and to "get what we want," it can be helpful to remember how Jesus acted toward us, and respond in the same way toward others.

Get enough sleep (and other healthy habits)

I had a couple late nights last week, because I stayed up to watch the finale of one of my favorite shows. I noticed pretty quickly the next morning that I was going to have to battle my own crabby and selfish heart, which seems to have more power when I am tired. Michael Hyatt has done a lot of writing on the impact of sleep, and its effects on your life. Lack of sleep can have a very negative impact, so we must fight to be well rested.

Additionally, healthy eating and exercise can help us grow in our patience and grace. John Piper, in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, talks about the importance of making wise choices with our health, ultimately in the service of a greater purpose.

"My aim for pastors is not your maximum physical health. Nor is it to help you find ways to get the best buzz for your brain. My aim is that you will find a way of life that enables you to use your mind and your five sense as effective partners in seeing the glory for God and that you be so satisfied in Him that you are willing to risk your health and your life to make Him known." (pg. 185, Brothers we are Not Professionals)

Here is how I see this working out practically. We need to pursue rest and physical health, so that when the time comes for us to sacrifice those things in the service of selfless acts (ultimately in the service of God's glory and the good of others), we are equipped to do so. When my child is up in the middle of the night scared because of a night-terror, I want to be well rested enough to sacrifice my sleep in the moment to care for them well. Or when I need to give up my meal for someone who needs it more, I want to have cared for myself well, so I am in a right frame of mind to sacrifice my food for the good of another.

Caring for myself is extremely important, but always in the service of a greater purpose. If I tell my child in the middle of the night that I can't help them deal with their nightmare because I really need to get some rest, so that I can be less selfish tomorrow, that would be crazy.

Care for yourself now, SO THAT you can sacrifice yourself later.

Choose intentionally selfless acts

One way we can fight our propensity toward selfishness is to intentionally and consistently choose selfless actions. When we purposefully choose selfless acts, we train ourselves to choose them again in the future. Like the muscle memory of an athlete or musician who practices the same simple action over and over again, so that they can repeat the action flawlessly under the pressure of performance or competition, we can train ourselves to move in the direction of selflessness rather than selfishness.

When we know we will be entering a situation that will require self-sacrificing choices, we can plan ahead and prepare ourselves. Or when we have the opportunity to be selfless when it is "easy," we can prepare ourselves to fight selfishness when it is hard. Think about ways you can make the intentional choice to be selfless, and plan ahead to act in that direction. Choose intentionally selfless acts and thereby train yourself to be sacrificially loving toward others.

Care for yourself now, SO THAT you can sacrifice yourself later.

Remind yourself of God's love for you

One of the key drivers for selfishness is the fear of losing out on what we so badly desire. We are often selfish out of a desire to protect ourselves and what is ours. Selfishness is heightened when we feel insecure and afraid. We fight to gather and retain what is ours. But when we remind ourselves of God's love for us, and the security He brings to our lives, we are more prepared to fight the temptation to be selfish.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)"

This passage in Romans 8 is a great reminder of who we are in Christ. Who can separate us from God? Can famine, nakedness, danger or sword? No! We are more than conquerors through Christ. What in this world is worth our selfish desires when we have the love of God? The God, "who did not spare is own Son, but gave him up for us." That is the kind of love the Father has for us. When we are confident in God's love for us, we have less need to seek our security in the world, which leads to less desire to "have what I want," which leads to sacrificial love toward others. Fight selfishness by reminding yourself of God's love for you in Christ.

Do you Make Time for Extravagant Waste?

The world goes round each day. The sun always rises in the east and it always sets in the west, and the next day it returns to the same place. People drive to work and people drive home. The freeways get clogged the same time each day. Only to get clogged again the next. You can empty your inbox at the end of the day, only to find it has filled again by the same time tomorrow. Sometimes life feels a bit monotonous. 

Sometimes life is exhilarating. Anyone who has been a student or worked on an exciting project knows the pressure of approaching deadlines. When schedules get full and projects mount, it can feel like running on a treadmill, speeding up with no end in sight. Day-by-day the pressure builds, and it crowds out everything else in life.

Whether monotonous or stress-filled, life has a way of crowding out our willingness to spend time on activities that feel "impractical," but are essential for our souls and our creative energies. When we get up in the morning, rather than taking time to be quiet - spending time in prayer, meditating on God's Word or journaling - the pressure of the day assaults us like cold water to the face.

The need to accomplish

We feel an intense need to accomplish something in our days and lives. Utility and pragmatic solutions press hard against us. In the world of ministry, or much of life, we fail to step back and take time for reflective work. For creative work. For the life of the mind.

I recently had lunch with a friend, and as we discussed what it means to truly be God's people in the world - what it means to be The Church, I was reminded that I often fail to take time to think deeply about important issues. I am pulled quickly to the practical, the immediate, the useful. Carving out time to read, write, create, dream, pray, journal or just think is hard. It feels like a tug of war for my time. And the immediate seems much stronger in its pull.

Do you create time in the present to invest in what feels like a waste? Or do looming deadlines crowd it out? Do you create moments in your days to not accomplish a task, but to invest in the immeasurable and impractical?

Creating space for extravagant waste

There is a video by Sara Groves, a singer-songwriter based out of the Twin Cities. In the video, she reflects on a blog post by Makoto Fujimura, in which she quotes him saying, "Pragmatism and utility have infected every area of life, every institution... primarily the church." Sometimes the space we create, that doesn't always seem pragmatic or useful is "extravagantly wasteful."

I appreciate her reflections, which you can watch in this short (2:30) video:

Our society focuses on Utility and Pragmatism - and it is has crept into The Church as well. Everything must be useful. But that is not always the way of God. Makoto Fujimura is a prominent artist in New York, who loves Jesus. You can read his blog post - the one Sara Groves quotes - here.

And here is a neat video about Makoto illuminating The Four Holy Gospels for Crossway in order to commemorate of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version Bible.

God's economy is not our economy

I am not like Makoto Fujimura. He is an artist, who is fully immersed in the artists life. I am not like Sara Groves. She also creates in a way that I am not wired. Fujimura and Groves are artists, who push hard against the utilitarian and pragmatic society in which we live. They push hard against the way my personality naturally flows. While I am not an artist in the sense of Fujimura and Groves, I do have a desire to create. I like to write, to share in the beauty of creating. I write to bring glory to God and good to others. And their words are helpful to me as I consider my own life.

God does not always gain the most glory in what is most useful and most efficient. That is not the economy of God. He is notorious for using things that seem impractical to the world. Sometimes he is most glorified in what would be deemed wasteful to the world. God's wisdom is not ours.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:20-25)

From the world's point of view, there was nothing more wasteful, nothing more foolish than the crucified Christ. Why would God subject himself to that sort of suffering? Why would the innocent die for the blemished? Why would the perfect die for the imperfect? Why would the sinless suffer a sinner's death? The only real answer is love and beauty. Love for His people and being glorified in the beauty of this sacrificial act.

God does not always gain the most glory in what is most useful and most efficient.

Make time to do the impractical

Investing in the impractical is not easy. It takes effort and it takes intentionality. For the sake of clarity, this is not the same as being truly wasteful. Rejecting pragmatism, only to find yourself binging on social media, television, food or folly is not what I am talking about.

The intentional investment in the extravagant waste that Sara Groves talks about, that Makoto Fujimura writes about or that we see in the death of Jesus does not happen by accident. We do not stumble into this sort of living. It will be a fight, because everything in our world and our culture will pull you into the monotony, the stress-filled projects or the truly wasteful entertainment binge.

Make time this week to be extravagantly wasteful. Take the time to have a true Sabbath. Take the time to think about theology. Take the time to read your Bible. Take the time to have a conversation with someone that may not feel "strategic" but simply to nourish their soul (and yours). Take the time to pray, unhurried prayers. Take the time to create. Take the time to meditate on a passage of Scripture. Take the time to paint. Take the time write. Take the time to go on a walk. Take the time to listen to good music.

Take the time to invest in your soul. To draw close to God. To push hard against the world that will want to collapse upon the time you have set-aside. Make time to do the impractical. Make time for extravagant waste.

Understanding the 3-Layers of Sin

Sin is complicated and it is messy. One of the great challenges to fighting sin is that we don't always understand sin or see how it works. While there is no magic pill that eliminates sin from our lives, I have learned a few things about how it works that might help you in our own battles with sin.

Sin has three layers, and we often fight it at the wrong level, which is part of why we find ourselves failing to see progress. The outermost layer of sin is the behavior level. It is the most noticeable and observable and therefore the level we spend most of our time in battle. The problem is that our behaviors have a deeper root, a sin beneath the sin. This deeper root is the second layer - the layer of heart idols. Jesus says that out of the heart the mouth speaks. And that good trees (heart level) bear good fruit (behavior level), while bad trees (heart level) bear bad fruit (behavior level) (Luke 6:43-45). Over and over again, the Scriptures make it clear that our behavior is a product of what is happening inside our hearts. Finally, an even deeper level exists, which is our Christ-centered identity. Ultimately, all sin flows from a loss of understanding regarding our identity.

 

Why behavior is not where we do battle

The reason that we do not simply fight our sin on the behavior level is because it will not ultimately solve the real problem. Its like drinking a lot of coffee to make up for the fatigue caused by a lack of sleep. Drinking coffee may fix the immediate need, but it is the lack of sleep that needs to be remedied. Our sinful behaviors are merely an expression of the deeper sin issue that exists in our heart. If we deal with the behavior, but never fix the heart issue, then our deeper sin will reappear as a new behavior or just reemerge five years down the road as the same behavior. We must deal with the deeper sin.

For example, if someone is struggling with looking at pornography, then they need to not only eliminate the behavior, but also deal with the underlying issue. Looking at pornography is at the behavior level, and is an expression of a deeper heart idol. The deeper issue might be a need for significance, which they seek in the images on a screen. The deeper heart idol might be a need for control, which they find when they look at pornography. These deeper heart idols need to be analyzed and dealt with, or the behavior will return. Whether in the same way, or a new way, the deeper sin will always express itself in sinful behavior.

Why we still fight against the behavior

Even though we need to ultimately deal with the heart issues, changing our behavior does matter. We still need to create habits and patterns in our life that help us to fight the behavior, so that we are freed up to deal with the heart. If we are constantly expressing our anger by yelling and losing control, we will have a heard time dealing with the underlying issue that drives our anger and loss of control. If we never stop looking at pornography, we will have a hard time dealing with the deeper heart idols that express themselves in those behaviors. Creating safe-guards and fences to help us eliminate behavior, gives us the space to deal with the heart. Like the fences around a yard to keep children safe inside. It isn't restrictive, it is actually freeing. If there was no fence, there would be no playing outside. When there is a fence, there is freedom to play. In the same way, we build fences to keep us safe from our sinful behaviors, so we can deal with the deeper heart idols. I wrote about this principle in a previous post, and you can read it here.

Knowing our identity is central to fighting sin

At the deepest level, our sin is the product of a loss of identity. When we fail to recognize who we are in Christ, and what our new life means, it leads to heart idols. When we forget that we have all the significance we need in Christ, we seek it in other places. When we forget that Christ is in control, and that it is far better for us when he is (Romans 8:28), we try to gain control on our own. So in the battle with sin, we need to constantly remind ourselves of our identity in Christ.

At the deepest level, our sin is the product of a loss of identity.

The way to fight sin is not to degrade the good things God has given us in life, which we have turned into idols, it is to elevate Jesus and remember the goodness of the Gospel. One way to do this is to make a habit of preaching the gospel to yourself, which you can read about here. Another great resource would be read Timothy Keller's book Counterfeit Gods.

Sin is manipulative and deceptive, and therefore it is very difficult to fight. When we have a better understanding of how it works in our lives, we can see progress in the battle.

Will you give some feedback on a new book for men?

A friend, Mark Benson, and I are in the early stages of writing a book for men. This has been on the horizon for each of us in different ways for quite some time. A few recent events have catalyzed some fresh movement and we are beginning to nail down some of the essential details. And we would love your thoughts and feedback!

How we got here

There have been a variety of factors that have led us to this point. Allow me to briefly share them with you.

Family Man series

In January, I had a Guest Post Series on the blog that was called "The Family Man that Follows Jesus." Mark was one of the four guests that posted on the blog. The response that I got for the series was extremely positive. It was a clear reminder of how important it is for men who follow Jesus to live in a way that is consistent with their faith in Christ.

C.S. Lewis Quote

Mark was reading through The Screwtape Letters and was struck by a particular passage in which Screwtape writes to Wormwood:

"And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal way a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off."

The idea that Satan is seeking to steal away the best years of a Christian man's life through meaningless distraction resonated with Mark. And when he shared this quote and general idea with me, it was illuminating.

Desire to communicate and apply gospel-centered truth

As you will see when we explain our general premise, we believe that the remedy is not simply a need to refocus on what matters and then work harder. The most basic problem is a loss of identity and a lack of seeing how the gospel of Jesus frees us from the various distractions in life.

We have a deep commitment to communicate the gospel and help people apply it to their lives. In this case, men are in need of a renewed understanding of the gospel, and how it can free them from the indifference caused by life's many distractions.

We saw a need

There are many books for men already in existence. But none that take the unique perspective that we will. And we see a great need to address the apathy and lethargy caused by input overload. We believe that this will be a timely book, and one that men need to read.

The premise of the book

Here is the working premise statement for the book:

One of the greatest problems facing men today is the enormous amount of distractions in life. A lack of intentionality in the ordering of our priorities leads to idols and failed responsibilities. If the demands of life are constantly pressuring you to work harder, be better, and run faster, this book is for you. God is calling men to trust in Christ and know the reality of their new identity in him. Rooting out idols and fighting to reorder our lives around a Biblical vision of manhood, so we can be fully alive in God.

Feedback survey

And now we need your help! Your feedback will be extremely helpful for us to consider various perspectives and elements that we may not have otherwise. We also have a list of seven potential titles we would like you to vote on. So, please take a couple minutes and fill out this survey.

Gender *
Select the title that you like the best *
What are the core problems you feel that men face today (choose up to four)? *

5 Ways to Be More Present at Home

During the month of January, four different men have contributed guest posts in our "The Family Man that Follows Jesus" series. It has given me a month off, so I can spend time with my growing family. The series has been very well received, and you can get links to all the posts at the series page.

I have enjoyed it so much that I wanted to write a post for the series as well. So, here is my contribution to The Family Man that Follows Jesus series.

Present and Engaged fathers

The number one predictor of at risk behavior in a teenager may not be what you think. It isn't race. It isn't gender. It isn't socio-economic standing. The number one factor for whether a teenager will engage in at-risk behavior is whether there is an involved father in their lives. Unfortunately, one out of every three children in America grow up in a biological father-absent home.

Sadly, even in homes where a father is physically present, they are often unengaged. As husbands and fathers who desire to follow Jesus and honor God, we cannot just be physically present, we must also be intentionally engaged. And not just with our children, but with our wives as well.

Admittedly, it can be difficult at times. After a long day, it is easy to detach from our family and enter the worlds of media, technology or sports. We might still be thinking about the work we left behind or just longing for bedtime. But, I believe that God calls us to more as husbands and fathers.

5 ways to be more present at home

The first step is to get home. Work or other factors may pull you away from your family, so fight the current and find ways to be physically present in your home. Once you are there, here are some ways to be more engaged.

1. Turn off the phone or device

While your children and wife are awake, get rid of the phones, tablets and laptops. I am bad at this. If I have my phone in my pocket, I am prone to pull it out and check my email, social media accounts, news, sports scores, blogs, etc. As a way of reducing the number of times I reach for my phone, I have designated two spots in my home that I try to keep my phone. When I get home, the phone comes out of my pocket and onto my kitchen counter or fireplace mantel.

When our wives and children want to engage with us, but see that we consistently prioritize our devices over them, a message is sent that we care more about technology and the outside world than we do about them. Do whatever it takes to limit your phone usage at home, and engage with your family instead. 

2. Ask good questions

When we ask good questions, we show that we care. Good questions require more than casually asking, "How was your day?" It means that we think about what we know about our wife and kids, and ask specific questions. "How was your time at the library today?" "Did you read any good books today?" Or to our wives, "Were you able to get some time to think today?" "Did you have any particularly meaningful times with the kids today?"

Simply asking, "How was your day?" is a bit lazy. Being intentional to ask good questions shows you care and also gets a far more transparent and revealing answer.

3. Involve them in your work

When I come home at the end of the day, I do not always have the margin to simply play with my kids or sit around and talk. I often have projects I need to do around the house, chores that need to be completed or other miscellaneous work to be done. Rather than getting home and just ignoring our family to complete the projects, find ways to involve them. I have tried to make it a habit to involve my three year old son (my oldest) in the work that I do. Whether it is building our dining room table, shoveling our driveway or doing the laundry, it is great when he can join me. It may not always be a reality, but be creative and find ways to involve your family in your work.

4. Get on their level

This goes in the opposite direction of the last one. When you are not pressed by a necessary project or chore, then engage them on their level. Get on the ground and wrestle with them. Build something epic with their Legos. Go outside and make a snowman. Have a tea party. Read a book with them. Don't expect them to come to you, join them in their interests. This goes for our wives as well. Watch the show they want to watch (even if it is totally lame...). If they want to play a game, read a book, have conversation, get a back rub... The list can go on and on. Know your wife and engage her in her areas of interest.

5. Read with them

The older I get the more I appreciate books, more specifically, the more I appreciate words. Words are absolutely crucial. God has chosen to communicate with us through words (The Bible), and language is foundational to nearly everything we want to do in the world. One of the most important things you can do for the development of your child is to read books with them. I hear about study after study regarding the importance of reading, and what a better way to reinforce the value of reading than having their father read them a book. I recently read Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt. She does a masterful job of articulating the value of reading in the home.

I would also argue that reading with your wife can be a really special time. Whether it is a classic novel, a book about parenting, or a book about faith, it can be very meaningful to share that time with your wife. Reading is a great way to engage with your family when you are home.

It's your turn. In the comments below, share one way that you try to engage with your family at home.

Loving our Wives with the Cross in Mind

During the month of January, five different men are contributing guest posts in our "The Family Man that Follows Jesus" series. It will give me a month off, so I can spend time with my growing family, and I am really excited to personally learn from the series myself.

This week, Drew Bontrager, the Connections Pastor at Lakeview Church in Indianapolis, IN. Drew has written about how important it is for husbands to remember the example of Jesus on the cross. The humble servant-heart of Jesus is the template for how we should engage with our wives in marriage. Drew became a friend while being a classmate of mine at Bethel Seminary and is a great man who loves Jesus very much. I am excited to share his post with you all. A more complete bio of Drew is available at the end of the post.

Love Sick

Recently, my wife Courtney had been sick. It hasn’t been anything major, just a common cold and fever but it put her in bed for a couple of days. She experienced common symptoms: headaches, sore throat, her temperature went up and down, and she was just exhausted.

Now I know it’s a bit cheesy but my heart breaks to see her in pain even if it is just a common cold, and I felt kind of bad because she probably got it from me. I had gotten sick a few days prior to Court, with the same stuff and was absolutely of no use to humanity, but to make matters worse I started recovering and feeling great while she was still in the thick of it. She never said it but I imagined she was thinking, “You did this to me!”

But here’s the cool part of the story; her sickness afforded me the opportunity to serve her. While she was officially out of commission, I had to step up my game. So I was doing everything. 

I prepared food for her, which was a miracle. Granted, it was food she had already cooked and all I had to do was heat it up, but nonetheless I “cooked” and cleaned up afterwards. I picked up her used tissues and threw them away. I made a run to the drug store to pick up extra meds and remedies. I checked in on her throughout my day. I cleaned the home. I made sure she had everything she needed. I was forced to put her needs and interests before my own.

At first, Court was hesitant about making requests. She started out by saying, “Could you…if it’s not too much trouble…possibly get me some more water?” Of course I obliged and slowly she started realizing, she could pretty much ask for anything. She was eating it up and all of a sudden, her tone changed. What was once a shy and polite request, became a demand as she said, “Where’s my water?!” Which was one of those questions that’s not really a question.

The most fascinating thing about it all is that while I served her, I noticed that it genuinely brought me joy. Albeit, it was a challenge at times and I didn’t always have the best attitude. There were times I almost said, “Get your own water!” Thankfully, I never did but even in the struggle of my own humanity, I found love and fulfillment as I gave myself up for her.

Out of reverence for Christ

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Eph 2:21, 25, 28)

Paul starts this passage in the letter to the Ephesians; in which my NIV Bible calls “Instructions for Christian Households,” with an imperative to both husbands and wives who follow Jesus, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). In other words, if we love Jesus then we should serve our spouse simply out of our love and devotion for Jesus.

He continues in 5:25 and he speaks more specifically to husbands and how they can love their wives, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” This passage beautifully echoes another one of Paul’s writings in Philippians 2:1-5 when he encourages the Philippian believers to humble themselves, value others above self, and put the interest of others before their own because this is the mindset of Christ. The context of relationships Paul was writing about in Philippians was different than in Ephesians, but the imperative was the same; follow the example of Jesus who humbled Himself all the way to the cross.

The picture God wants in our eyes when husbands see their wives is the cross. The self-sacrificial love of the cross is how to cultivate a healthy marriage relationship. Paul reminds us that when we think about how to love our wives, how to serve our wives, or how to relate to our wives that we must think of the cross.

Dynamic Service

My wife and I have been married for 5 ½ years now but I quickly discovered after we got married that I am naturally a selfish person. Serving Courtney and putting her needs before my own does not come easy. Though, it seems that the more I serve her, the more I enjoy serving her.

Serving isn’t something that only transforms the person receiving the service. Serving is dynamic. Paul said that when we love our wives, we love ourselves. There is something profoundly deep, mysterious, and wonderful that happens in a marriage relationship when a man and a woman love one another the way Jesus loved us. It places us in a humble position to give without the assurance or proposal of receiving anything in return. This type of generosity and vulnerability is the heart of God for a husband. 

The self-sacrificial love of the cross is how to cultivate a healthy marriage.

This Is Hard

I have been challenged lately with this question, how can I serve my wife in my normal day-to-day life the way Christ loved the church? Because if I’m honest, this is hard! It’s one thing to serve my wife when she is sick and incapable of taking care of herself every once and a while, but it’s a whole different ball game when she is healthy, autonomous, and taking care of business! And if I’m brutally honest, most of the time, I just don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like listening to my wife or asking her questions after a long day of work. I don’t feel like going on a walk with her because I’d rather watch sports. Or I don’t feel like cuddling up on the couch because I would rather have my own space.

The reality however is that I’m most likely not alone in my feelings because this is very natural. It’s not natural to want to serve. It’s natural to think of self. It’s natural to want to do things that give me satisfaction. The cross reminds us that God doesn’t want us to live a natural life.

God has something so much deeper and rewarding for us. The Kingdom of God is always counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. Jesus said that the first will be last and that if you want to live, then you must die to yourself. The cross shows us that if you want the kind of marriage God intends and to be the best husband you can be, then you have to live it like it’s not about you! 

More about Drew

Bontrager.jpg

Drew grew up in Indianapolis, IN where he met his wife Courtney. They are childhood sweethearts and have now been married for 5+ years. Drew traveled to Minneapolis to study and prepare for the call of God on his life to become a pastor. He studied Pastoral Studies at North Central University and Theological Studies at Bethel Seminary. He has served at two churches as an associate pastor for the past 5+ years and is currently back in Indianapolis serving as a staff pastor with his family at his home church, Lakeview Church. Drew's heart is to reach people for Christ and help them connect to the church family and use their gifts in ministry. 

5 Questions Every Husband Should be Asking

During the month of January, four different men are contributing guest posts in our "The Family Man that Follows Jesus" series. It will give me a month off, so I can spend time with my growing family, and I am really excited to personally learn from the series myself.

This week, Andy O'Rourke, Lead Pastor at Antioch Community Church has written about 5 Questions Every Husband Should be Asking. Andy is a great man, working hard to pastor a vibrant faith community in Northeast Minneapolis. I really appreciate his exhortation to husbands in this post, and I pray you are encouraged by his words as well. A more complete bio of Andy is available at the end of the post.

Asking ourselves the right questions

This year my wife and I celebrated our 16-year anniversary. It’s been an incredible ride. The road has included five moves, two dogs, three academic degrees, four jobs, and two amazing children. When it comes to being a godly husband, I don't claim to be an expert, but my tires definitely have some wear. Over the years I’ve learned a lot, and still have much more to learn! Recently, I was reflecting on the apostle Peter’s instructions to husbands in 1 Peter 3:7, where he says,

"Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (ESV)."

Peter’s admonitions are brief, but powerful and convicting. As I think about growing as a husband in 2016, I’ve been wrestling with five questions I believe every husband should be asking himself. 

1) Am I dwelling with my wife?

Marriage is the beginning of a new life together between a husband and wife. It’s much more significant than simply gaining a permanent roommate. Sure, you share the same space with your spouse, but you can share space without sharing lives. Marriage is a call to share life together, to dwell together. You dwell together physically, emotionally and spiritually. You share hopes, dreams, joys, struggles, disappointments and everything else the journey of life brings. 

In order to dwell with your wife, you have to be present. This means being physically present. If your busyness or personal pursuits are preventing you from investing time in the most important human relationship you have, then something has to go. Dwelling with your wife also includes being mentally present when you’re together. Focus upon her. Listen to her. Turn your phone off, if that’s what it takes. Be available in both body and mind.

2) Am I a student of my wife?

I’ve always valued being a “lifelong learner.” I’m curious about all types of things and I love gaining new knowledge. I love envisioning what the future could look like, and then establishing goals and strategies to get there. But, do I study my wife? Do I really know her deeply? Do you know what your bride is struggling with? What does she need most from you right now? Could you recount to someone how she has grown over the past year? Do you have a vision and strategy for how you want her to flourish as a woman of God? It doesn’t really matter if you like school or not, every husband needs to embrace his calling as a lifelong student of his wife. 

3) Am I adoring my wife?

Peter tells husbands to “show honor” to the most important woman in their life. This involves granting your wife the respect she is rightly due. Honoring her is more than mere appreciation or honorable mention. Your wife doesn’t just want to be thanked. She hungers to be adored by you. Platform her. Lift her up. Take action and show her how much she is valued by you. Work at this with time, energy and creativity. As you create an environment of adoration you will allow your wife to flourish.

Your wife doesn’t just want to be thanked. She hungers to be adored by you.

4) Am I affirming my wife as a fellow heir in the gospel?

Leadership doesn’t mean the person you lead is of lesser worth. Good leaders seek to serve and elevate those around them. They want to do everything in their power to set others up for success. Leaders should never belittle those they lead. Husbands who are followers of Jesus need to lead like Jesus. Part of your sacrificial, servant leadership as a husband includes affirming your wife’s identity in Christ. Though you may have distinct roles as husband and wife, you are heirs together of the abundant riches found in the gospel. This world screams a thousand messages each day about what it means to be a woman. Remind your wife what it means to be a woman of God. Remind her who she is because of Jesus’ work on her behalf. Help her discern the truth from any lies she might believe about her identity. Affirm her in Jesus.

5) Am I praying for my wife?

The end of 1 Peter 3:7 includes a sober warning to husbands. The warning is to husbands who would neglect Peter's preceding instructions. They don’t strive to love their wives well, and maybe they don’t even care. Unrighteousness as a husband will actually cause your prayers before God to be hindered. That’s a terrifying thought. Neglecting my wife will create a barrier between God and I, built by my own hypocrisy. Notice, Peter’s warning assumes something basic. A godly husband is a praying husband. Let’s start there. Husbands need to come before God on behalf of their wives. One simple way I’ve learned to pray for my wife is to ask her, “What are a couple ways you’d like me to pray for you this week?” It’s a great encouragement to know someone is praying for you, especially your own husband.

Becoming the husband God intends

The purpose of the five questions above is not to make husbands feel more defeated or inadequate. They’re intended to help us be more intentional as we take our God-given responsibility seriously. Without the acceptance and security available in the gospel, these questions will crush you. But through the grace and strength of God’s Spirit, we can grow as godly husbands this year. I encourage you to ask yourself these five questions on a regular basis, knowing that in Jesus you’ve been given the ability to become the husband God intends you to be and the husband your wife longs for. 

More about Andy

O'Rourke_Andy.jpg

Andy grew up in rural Iowa and became a follower of Jesus at age 16 through a local, evangelical church. After sensing God’s call to vocational ministry, he pursued theological training at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and recently completed his Master of Divinity at the University of Northwestern St. Paul. Andy has always been passionate about raising up leaders and planting churches to reach the next generation. Antioch Community Church is the second church Andy has planted, and he is excited to continue to start churches locally and globally. Andy has been married to his high school sweetheart Sara since 1999 and they have two amazing children, Ava and Luke.


Response to Rock City (ft. Adam Levine)'s hit single "Locked Away"

A common yearning

You may have heard "Locked Away," the hit single by Rock City (ft. Adam Levine). It rose to the top of Ryan Seacrest's Top 40 multiple weeks and draws in listeners through a compelling melody and lyrics that connect with our deepest longings. It draws upon a common yearning of the human soul, a desire to know how our closest loved ones would respond to the core questions asked in the song.

Questions like, If you knew my flaws, would you still love me the same? Would you stick around if you knew the mess I really am? If you knew the ugly parts of me, would you stand by my side?

Every day, people are wrecked by the feelings of abandonment caused by those whom they care for most. An absent father who is present physically but not emotionally. Or a father who doesn't stick around at all. A husband or wife who gives up on their marriage entirely, or seeks fulfillment with a coworker or website. We see this all around us and wonder if our own loved ones will stay. If they knew our mess, would they stay?

[If you haven't heard the song, I have included the video and lyrics below. The chorus is very catchy, so be warned - it may be in your head the rest of the day.]

Marriage says yes

A covenant-keeping, biblically faithful marriage says yes in answer to those questions. The gift of marriage is that we can show our flaws, and trust that our spouse isn't going to run away. Our consumer driven, me-first mentality has undermined the beauty of that commitment. As a result, romantic relationships are often driven by what we can get, not what we can give. We enter them with a performance mentality, always feeling a need to only show the best version of ourselves. It ends up feeling like a job interview. We are always trying to show our best and hide our flaws, hoping we will make it to the next round, constantly wondering when we are going to be cut loose.

This consumer mentality has crept into our marriages. A fear of divorce and selfish motives continue to fuel a mentality that asks "what can I get?" before asking "what can I give?" We expect our spouse to be asking the same questions, so we hide our worst for fear of them leaving. And we wonder, "If I showed you my flaws, if I couldn't be strong, tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?"

The beauty of marriage is that it says yes! Marriage is not a contract, it is a covenant. It is not at all like a job interview, it is like God's relationship with his people. Love in a marriage invites us to strip off the façade and share our true selves, with confidence our spouse isn't walking away. Love says, "I've seen the ugly and messy, and I love you the same."

Love says, ‘I’ve seen the ugly and messy, and I love you the same.’

Jesus says yes

Our hope in marriage is grounded first in the hope we have in Jesus. God has seen us at our worst and he still pursues us in love. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rm 5:8)." There is nothing you can hide from God. He has seen it all and knows the worst parts of you. There might be things about you that make you say, "If my spouse knew XYZ about me, they would leave me for sure." Whatever that thing is, God knows about it, and he has not left you. In fact, he did the exact opposite. He pursued you, even when you were living in the darkness of your sin. Jesus says yes to you. Even if you have had to endure the difficulty of a spouse saying no, Jesus still says yes.

Jesus also gives us an example of how we are called to respond to our own spouse. When we learn about their dark places, do we offer them the love and grace Jesus has given us? Or do we respond in condemnation? Even at our worst, Jesus has said yes to us, and I believe that he calls us to do the same for our spouse.

So in response to Rock City and Adam Levine - Jesus says yes! And so does a covenant-keeping, Christ-centered marriage.

[Note: I realize that there are certain actions our spouse could make that will require us to walk away, for safety, etc. And you might be in one of those situations. If so, you need the help and support of pastors, family, friends and loved ones to know how to proceed. This post is not intended to be comprehensive for every possible scenario, although it will be applicable for most.]

Music Video and Lyrics

Video

Lyrics

If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

[Verse 1: R. City]
Right about now
If a judge 'for life' me, would ya stay by my side?
Or is you gonna say goodbye?
Can you tell me right now?

If I couldn't buy you the fancy things in life
Shawty, would it be alright?
Come on show me that you are down

[Pre-Chorus: R. City]
Now tell me would you really ride for me?
Baby tell me would you die for me?
Would you spend your whole life with me?
Would you be there to always hold me down?
Tell me would you really cry for me?
Baby don't lie to me
If I didn't have anything
I wanna know, would you stick around?

[Chorus: Adam Levine]
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

[Verse 2: R. City]
Skilidi dong dong dong dang
All I want is somebody real, who don't need much
A gyal I know that I can trust
To be here when money low
If I did not have nothing else to give but love
Would that even be enough?
Gyal me need fi know

[Pre-Chorus: R. City]
Now tell me would you really ride for me?
Baby tell me would you die for me?
Would you spend your whole life with me?
Would you be there to always hold me down?
Tell me would you really cry for me?
Baby don't lie to me
If I didn't have anything
I wanna know, would you stick around?

[Chorus: Adam Levine]
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

[Bridge: R. City]
Tell me, tell me, would you want me?
Tell me, tell me, would you call me?
If you knew I wasn't balling
Cause I need a gyal who's always by my side
Tell me, tell me, do you need me?
Tell me, tell me, do you love me?
Or is you just tryna play me?
Cause I need a gyal to hold me down for life

[Chorus: Adam Levine]
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
 

You can find the video and lyrics at this link: http://genius.com/R-city-locked-away-lyrics

 

You are not alone (even when you feel like you are)

Fear Not

One of my favorite passages of scripture comes from the book of Isaiah. God's people needed a fresh word of hope and confidence, and God delivered. He responded with the words, "Fear not, for I am with you." There is nothing more comforting than the confidence of God's presence. No matter our circumstances or situation in life, knowing that God is with us brings hope and peace. It shines light into the darkest of situations.

Loneliness and isolation are some of the most difficult of human emotions. I have felt it in a foreign country, when I lacked the ability to fully communicate with the people around me. Or when I have been in a room filled with people, most of which I did not know, but they all knew each other really well. In both scenarios, I could have been surrounded by a million people, but I still felt alone. Or when depression sets in upon a human mind, loneliness is often quickly behind. At those moments, it is not the number of people around you, but the presence of the right person that matters.

It is not the number of people around you, but the presence of the right person that matters

Whether it be a lack of genuine relationships, the storms of life that brew on the horizon, or the crushing weight of unmet expectations, we need to know that God is with us. In Isaiah 41, God's people are in exile. They feel defeated and alone in a foreign nation. They needed hope.

God says,
"Fear not, for I am with you;
     be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
     I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10)."

What a beautiful gift God gives his people. There is no greater hope than the confidence of God's presence. Even in exile, God's people can have hope because God says, "Fear not, for I am with you."


I am with you

All throughout the Scriptures, God's presence with his people is a major theme. When they are in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt, God went with them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). When Jesus was leaving this earth, he promised that he  would always be with his disciples, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Jesus explains that God is Spirit (John 4:24), as a way of teaching that God's presence is not restricted to a particular location. God's presence is far reaching and can be with anyone at anytime without limit.

There is nothing more comforting than knowing that God is present with us. When the waters rise and waves begin to crash on the shores of my family life, my wife and I know that if we are in it together, we are much better off than when we go it alone. It isn't just the presence of another person that brings comfort in the storm, it is the presence of the right person. My wife is great, but she isn't God. Knowing my wife is going to hold my hand and weather the storm with me brings comfort, but knowing that God is with me is unmatched.

God says that he will strengthen us, he will help us, he will uphold us with his righteous right hand. This may not mean that he takes the storm away, but that he will hold our hand in the midst of the storm. God renews his promise a couple chapters later, when he says "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (Isaiah 43:1)."

He has called us, and He is our God. The God who formed the earth, who commands the seas, who calms the storms and whose voice the winds obey, that is our God. We are his, and he says, "Fear not, for I am with you." The same God who made that promise to his people through the prophet Isaiah is the God whom we worship through Jesus Christ.

I would encourage you to memorize Isaiah 41:10, and recite it to yourself over and over. Remind yourself again and again that God is with you. And help others to remember that God is with them as well.

Fighting Sin by Building Fences

Waging war against sin

We don't like to talk about sin very often. It makes us feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. It makes us feel ashamed and unworthy. Unfortunately, not talking about it doesn't make the sin go away. Every day, to varying degrees, we deal with sin in our lives. It is inescapable.

In fact, the Bible says that if we claim to be without sin, we are making God a liar (1 John 1:8;10). God's opinion is that we do have sin in our lives, so if we claim that we do not, we are disagreeing with God's assessment of the situation. Let's be honest with ourselves and with one another, we do have sin. We need to be aware of it, repent of it, and wage war against our sin.

Fighting our sin is important, not because we need God's approval, but because God loves us and our sin undermines our relationship with him and the good he wants for our lives. Sin is parasitic, it wreaks havoc on our souls and on our life. The gospel of Jesus is what saves us, not our ability to successfully put to death any particular sin. It is out of our new life in Christ that we pursue freedom from sin.

Building Fences

An important strategy for fighting sin is building the right fences to keep sin out. When my wife and I were looking to buy a house a couple years ago, one of the items on our list was a fenced in back yard. We have small children, and we wanted them to be able to play outside without needing to worry about them running out to the road. Our fence keeps the children in and danger out.

We can also build fences that help to keep us safe inside and our sin outside. I have had multiple conversations in the last couple weeks about the specific area of sexual sin. Whether it be lust, pornography, adultery or other behaviors associated with sexual sin, this can be a very destructive sin if we allow it to take root in our lives. But it is far from being the only sin we have to deal with. We may sin through our anger, pride, stealing, lashing out with our tongue, materialism, etc. Whatever the sin may be, we need to set up boundaries that will help free us from the sin.

If you struggle with pornography, a helpful fence post may be installing monitoring software on your computer - Covenant Eyes and X3 Watch are great options. If you struggle with materialism, you may need to cancel your subscription to certain magazines that fuel that sin. If you struggle with comparison, you may need to take a break from social media. If you struggle with anger, you may need to add counseling to your life.

These fences are meant to create a safe space for you to grow and develop. The boundaries you create will not stop sin on their own, but they can help give you the freedom needed to fight the sin in your life. What boundaries or fence posts do you need to incorporate into your life?

An important strategy for fighting sin is building the right fences to keep sin out.

Giving our spirit the safety to grow

Growing up, my grandfather was a farmer. I remember him growing a small plot of sweet corn each year so that we could enjoy a feast of corn on the cob in the fall. He had a problem though. The deer would come and help themselves to a little sweet corn as well. It was tasty, so why wouldn't they want some? The problem was that the corn could not grow strong and healthy under the constant burden of the deer's meals. So, my grandpa but an electric fence around the corn to keep the deer out.

The fence around that small plot of land allowed my grandfather's corn the freedom to grow strong and healthy. Eventually the corn stocks would grow enough to sustain us taking the mature cobs, without hindering its ability to continue growing the cobs that remained.

We bought a house with a fence to keep my children inside and the danger outside. My son has now grown old enough to crawl up the fence, reach over top, and release the gate. We even let him ride his bike up and down the alley way if we are outside and able to watch. The fence kept him safe for a season, so that he could eventually stretch his wings and expand his boundaries.

In our own lives, building fences helps to keep us safe from sin, allowing us the space to grow and mature. It allows us to deal with the deeper issues that fuel our sin. Building fences is not just about keeping the sin out, but also about giving us space to grow. As we grow and mature, some of the fence posts may be able come down, but that doesn't mean we run back to our sin. My son rides his bike down the alleyway, I ride mine on streets and bike lanes, but it would be foolish for anyone to ride it down the middle of the freeway. No matter how much we mature, we still need to be wise and continue to fight our sin. Building some fences enables us the freedom to grow.

Dealing with the deeper sin

Without the space to adequately develop this idea, I want to touch on it momentarily. As we begin to fight our sin, we must recognize that there are deeper sin issues that reside beneath the surface. Our sinful behaviors are the product of deeper sins that must also be dealt with. If we only ever deal with the behavior, but not the sin that has produced those behaviors, we have not adequately fought our sin.

You may see victory over a behavior, but the deeper sins, if not dealt with, will manifest themselves in other ways. Your desire for material things may have their deeper root in a need for security, approval or pride. Looking at pornography may have a deeper root in the need for significance, relationship or fulfillment. Even if you stop buying things or no longer look at porn, if you have not dealt with those deeper needs and the sinful thoughts that accompany them, they will find their way out into other behaviors. As you fight your sin, from the safety of your fences, don't just deal with the surface behavior, deal with the deeper sin as well.

A New Way to be Human

You have been made new

Central to our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus is an understanding that when we believed the gospel and placed our faith in Christ, we were made new. In the gospel of John, Jesus teaches Nicodemus that unless you have been born again (new life), you cannot see the Kingdom. In Ephesians, Paul extends the "new life" paradigm.

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world... But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ [new life] - by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5 ESV)."

Our new life is not only something we should come to understand as a Biblical reality, but also provides a foundation to catalyze a new way of life. Because we have been made new, there is a new way to be human. 

Put on the new self

In multiple of Paul's letters, he calls his audience to a new way of living. He does not just dole out commands intending to fill up a task list for the believer to follow. The exhortation Paul commonly gives is grounded in an understanding of our new life.

For example, in the book of Colossians, Paul spends much of the first two chapters reminding his Colossian audience of the new life they have in Christ. He begins chapter three with the words "if then."

"If then you have been raised with Christ... For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 13:1,3 ESV)."

He begins chapter three by grounding his exhortation in the reality of our new life. He goes on to explain that we should put to death the former behaviors that were consistent with our old self (Colossains 3:5-11). Then he calls us to live a life that is consistent with our new life in Christ. He tells us to "put on" certain characteristics. As men and women who have been made new, we are called to "put on" certain qualities, such as compassionate hearts, kindness, etc. We are to clothe ourselves in the qualities of a person who has been made new.

Live consistent with who you are

Paul is telling us to act in a way that is consistent with the new life we have in Christ. We are no longer the people we used to be. We have been made new and have put aside those former ways, we must walk in them no longer.

Oak trees produce a certain kind of leaf, and grow in a certain kind of way. When you walk along a path and hear leaves crunching under your feet, feel the reprieve of the warm sun under the shade and see acorns strewn about the ground, you know you are in the presence of an oak. Leaves, shade and acorns are the product of a certain type of tree. An oak tree won't drop a maple leaf. It won't produce an apple or orange. It is an oak tree and by its very nature will create a certain type of leaf, grow in a certain way and produce acorns.

As a follower of Jesus, we have been changed. We have been born again. As a result, our nature should produce certain traits in us and walking in sin is no longer consistent with who we are. That doesn't mean we won't still struggle with sin, but Paul is telling us that because of Jesus in our life, there is a new way to be human. He is calling us to live in a way that is consistent with who we already are in Christ. We don't live in a certain way to gain the love of Jesus or so that Jesus will gracious enough to change us, but because we have already been loved by Jesus and changed by Jesus through our new birth.