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The Pillars & Planks of the Man of God

The time was September 2002. My oldest son Andrew had just turned nine, and I was amazed at how fast the time had passed. I remembered that day in 1994 when I first held him in my hands. I was overcome with a profound sense of the responsibility of having this tiny life in my hands, both in a literal sense and in a sense of the responsibility of guiding the life of his soul. I remembered feeling totally inadequate to the task, and asking God for His grace.

Nine years later, I again felt keenly in need of God’s grace. No, there was no major crisis, but I saw how that tiny baby that it seemed like just yesterday I was cradling in my hands was now a cub scout, and I saw how this boy would soon grow into a man. I looked around and thought how little this world and this culture would be a positive influence on his journey into manhood, and how it was my responsibility, more than any other person, to be a mentor, example, and guide to him.

The boy would soon be a man, I thought. But that realization begat the question, what is a man? What defines manhood? How does God define it? What are the values that will allow a man to look back at the end of his life with a sense of deep & lasting satisfaction, and what will cause the heart of God to speak over his life, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased?”

I wanted to give my son some guideposts, some markers along the way that would be faithful & true. And so I turned to the Scriptures, and saw three vertical pillars that define the relationship between a man and his God, and fourteen horizontal planks that characterize a life well lived. These pillars and planks can describe the lives of both men & women of God, but I wrote them originally for my son, and set them in a frame that hung as a daily reminder in his bedroom.

The first of the three pillars that I chose was that a man enjoys God with all his heart. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord,” and yet so few people structure their lives around that command. It is so easy to slip into a mere religion of rules and end up delighting in religion itself like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, or adopting today’s materialistic mindset that adds God as a once a week afterthought to a life really focused on the things of this world. I wanted my son to steer a true course between both of those errors first and foremost.

The second pillar posted on his bedroom wall stated that a man depends on God for all his needs. I wanted to cultivate in him a constant gaze toward God, meditating on Philippians 4:19, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” I knew that if he always looked to God, God would never fail him.

The final pillar I gave to him was that a man glorifies God with all his life. Looking to the Westminster Confession and to Paul’s command that, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” ( 1 Corinithians 10:31 ) I did not want him to fall into the trap of dividing his life between the secular and the sacred. I didn’t want him to ever think that God would consider it acceptable to give a mere portion of his time, talent, & treasure to the Kingdom. No, I wanted him to see all of life as a marvelous quest to enjoy God, depend on God, & glorify God.

With these pillars firmly set, I next outlined the “planks”– the values that characterize the man of God. I first reminded him that a man was passionate–that he loves God and loves life with all his heart. A life not driven by passion is a life that accomplishes nothing. I wanted the first commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” ( Matthew 22:37 ) to be more than just words to him, but the life blood of his own heart.

Next I wrote that a man was selflesshe shows God’s love to others. Jesus in John 13:34 gave us a “new” commandment to love one another. What was new about the love Jesus commanded? His love was a selfless, sacrificial, divine love, the love that He himself showed to us. I wanted to pass on that challenge to my son, to let his life be characterized by selfless Christlike love.

The third plank was that a man needs to be humble. I defined a humble man as one who knows he needs God, who admits when he’s wrong, and who isn’t proud when he’s right. Humility begins with the realization of who I am in relation to who God is. Humility demonstrates itself day to day by accepting responsibility in the face of failure, and avoiding pride in the face of victory. As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:5, the man who can consistently live out humility is the one who gets much grace from God.

But in his humility a man also needs to show that he is brave. The definition I wrote was that a brave man is committed to do what’s right whatever the sacrifice, for he knows that God is faithful.  I crafted each word to clearly define what a God-honoring bravery is: it takes commitment, it must be in the service of what’s right, it must be prepared to pay the price, and it must have as its foundation the faithfulness of God toward His people.

Another essential quality I saw was being thankful: to know God’s love is behind every blessing & every trial. The Bible warns of both flavors of ingratitude– that of the man in plenty who forgets God, and the man in want who blames God. Every man experiences times of both want & plenty, and I wanted my son to be prepared to obey the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in everything.

The sixth plank in my list was for him to be committed to being honestalways telling the truth no matter what. Telling less than the truth is always the easy way out of a difficult situation, but it is never the right way. As a memory verse I wrote down Proverbs 12:22– Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.

I next wrote that the man of God is a holy man, in that he lives as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as 1 Corinthians 6:19 teaches. The concept of personal holiness is so often misunderstood & even mocked, both within & without the church. I wanted Andrew to see the Biblical view of holiness, as being honored, chosen, and set apart for God’s use.

I also wanted him to learn the true way to be strong– that supernatural strength is found in following God. The prophet Isaiah gave us this secret of the true source of strength thousands of years ago when he wrote,

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. ( Isaiah 40:29-31 )

A godly man also reflects God’s own character in being faithful– he knows that God expects him to keep his promises. I want my son to one day hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” ( Matthew 25:21 )

In order to be faithful, a man must be hard-working– knowing the opportunity to use all his might for God’s glory is an honor and a pleasure. I most certainly did not want him sprawled across my couch at age 29 playing video games. I wanted his life to demonstrate 1 Corinthians 15:58 with him “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that (his) labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

I longed to see him grow up to be wiseseeing things as things as God does, as well as patient, seeing God’s timing as perfect. I knew that without patience & wisdom no man will go far.

But with the strength & wisdom & patience, I did not want him to be directionless in life. I wanted him to be a man of purpose– always searching for what God wants him to do. I knew that God never tells us the whole story of our life, but I wanted him to always be assured that there was a story that the Father had specifically written for him. I wanted him to know that he could live with the same confidence that Jesus displayed in John 12:49 and know that God had sent him into this world for a specific purpose as well.

Finally, I wanted to sum up all I wanted him to be for God, for his family, and for himself. I chose the word deep. The man who is deep gets that way by committing to grow by knowing himself, the world, and God better each day. By living his life daily by these pillars and planks, he develops into a man of depth who is of inestimable value to God’s Kingdom.

So, eight years later— how is my child who is now a man? Well, at 17 he still has a way to go, but he is on the path. As he continues to learn from God and walk with God, I trust that he will continue to be a son that makes his father proud. For that matter, I hope that we all want to live by the same pillars & planks to make our Father proud as well.

What Am I Fighting For?

That’s the question that kept repeating in my mind as I read Chapter Four of Holiness by J. C. Ryle entitled “The Fight.”

There are two parallel dimensions to the question: the first is to give a defense of expending energy: you could rephrase the question “Why am I fighting?” “What’s the purpose of seeing the Christian life as warfare and plowing your energies daily into it?

Ryle emphatically answers that “everyone who would be saved must fight about his soul” and that,

True Christianity is “a fight.” The true Christian is called to be a soldier, and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death. He is not meant to live a life of religious ease, indolence, and security.

He brings to bear the many verses that link striving and labor and warfare to our salvation such as 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 2:3, Ephesians 6:11-13, Luke 13:24, John 6:27, Matthew 10:34, Luke 22:36, 1 Corinthians 16:13, and 1 Timothy 1:18-19. He notes:

Words such as these appear to me clear, plain, and unmistakable. They all teach one and the same great lesson, if we are willing to receive it. That lesson is that true Christianity is a struggle, a fight, and a warfare…

Necessity is laid upon us. We must fight. There are no promises in the Lord Jesus Christ’s epistles to the seven churches, except to those who “overcome.” … There is no holiness without a warfare. Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight.

Do we feel anything of war in our inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! …All true saints are soldiers. The child of God has two great marks about him, and of these two we have one. He may be known by his inward warfare, as well as by his inward peace.

Ryle’s repeated attempts at showing us the reality of spiritual warfare remind me of two other quotes from totally different sources. The first is from Aragorn from Lord of the Rings:

Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.

The second is from John Eldredge’s book Waking the Dead:

I need to study the Word of God with all the intensity of the men who studied the maps of the Normandy coastline before they hit the beaches on D-Day.

The other meaning that kept ringing in my mind of “What Am I Fighting For?” while reading the chapter was, “What am I really expending my energy, my emotions, my time, my dreams for?” If I examine my life, my actions, my heart, what am I really fighting for? Would someone look at my life and say, “He is a soldier, and it is clear he is fighting for holiness in his life.” I honestly think not. That is a very humbling question for me to consider, and in prayer to ask God to show me where I need to change in my heart, my priorities and plans, and in my actions to become a soldier for holiness in my life.

(This post is in reaction to a read through the book project that multiple bloggers are following with Tim Challies. His original post for chapter four is here.)

Thirsting for Righteousness

Tim Challies, THE Christian uber-blogger, has started going through J. C. Ryle’s classic work Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, and invited others in the blogosphere along for the ride.  This week’s post covered the introduction for the book.  Here are my thoughts:

First, I was impressed by the 1952 foreword written by Lloyd-Jones, where he described the work as “strong and virile and entirely free from the sentimentality that is often described as “devotional.”"  Hmmm, how many books on the current Christian top 20 would fit that description?  This is the kind of book I want to read.

Lloyd-Jones also described the book as “invariably produces that “hunger and thirst after righteousness” which is the only indispensable condition to being “filled”.”  Ouch.  That really, really hurt.  How much am I REALLY hungering and thirsting for righteousness in my life?  I don’t mean being “nice” or not committing felonies, but having a deep unquenchable soul ache to have my whole life be holy, stronger than any other desire?  I REALLY need to read this book.

In Ryle’s 1879 Preface he addresses real, transforming, substantive change:

Do those who attend these meetings become more holy, meek, unselfish, kind, good-tempered, self-denying, and Christ-like at home?  Do they become more content with their position in life, and more free from restless craving after something different from that which God has given them?

His immediate concern was the then current fad of emotional revivalist meetings, but it can be applied to any exercise of religion— going to church, going to excellent Reformed conferences, reading “edifying” blogs, just insert whatever you have done in the past year “to become a better Christian”— did it actually work?  Are you actually more holy than you were last year?

In the introduction Ryle makes a statement that is just as true today as a hundred years ago:

Wordly people sometimes complain with reason that “religious” persons, so-called, are not so amiable, and unselfish, and good-natured, as others who make no profession of religion.

Our correct doctrine and sound understanding of the lostness of the world, and sin, and redemption, isn’t worth a plug nickel to others who plainly see that all our talk of “Jesus in our hearts” is just that—talk.

True holiness, we surely ought to remember, does not consist merely of inward sensations and impressions… it is something of “the image of Christ,” which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings.

I don’t want to read about holiness & blog about holiness, I want God to stir up a sincere, fervent desire in me to BE holy, and then for me to live it.  I am praying that God will use this book as a way of doing that in my life and in others.