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 selfless–he 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 honest– always 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 wise– seeing 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.
Yes, everyone knows it: men don’t read instruction manuals. They somehow feel that they’ve either got it all down, or they’re smart enough that they don’t need them, or that they can do just as well by figuring out things as they go along. Consequently, our culture is filled with stories of how badly things go wrong when men fail to read the manual.
For those who can remember back to the eighties, there was even a television series based solely on one premise: a man living without the instruction manual. The sci-fi comedy/drama The Greatest American Hero featured a schoolteacher who was given a mysterious alien super suit. His only problem: he lost the instruction manual. So, every show was about him desperately trying to use this amazing suit with incredible powers, but always comically messing up because he didn’t have the instruction manual to read. Every week millions of people across America tuned in to watch a guy with the capability to do supernatural stuff fail over and over.
Guess what? That story is more than just a TV show— it’s really the story of the church in America. You see, as Christians we have more than a dorky looking super suit: we have a regenerated soul indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We have the ability to lead truly supernatural lives: to be supernaturally loving, wise, joyful, and self-controlled.
So what’s the problem? Why aren’t we leading supernatural lives? Could it be that part of the problem is that we aren’t paying enough attention to the instruction manual?
Yes, we have the most incredible “instruction manual” ever written: the Bible. In its pages we can learn all that we need to know about God, about ourselves, and about the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. We have all the directions to the “super suit” that God has given us in the new birth. And yet, research studies show that less than 1 in 10 Americans who identify themselves as being born-again have a Biblical worldview.
John Eldredge once wrote, “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.” Do we really have that heart-felt intensity, to study the Bible for all that its worth? Or are we stumbling clumsily through life unable to fly, just because we aren’t studying God’s instruction manual?
Whole. Complete. Full.
All good sounding words, all words that we would like to say describe our souls.
We don’t start out on life’s journey feeling whole or complete or full. We’re always seeking, reaching, grasping, trying to find out what’s missing to make our life complete.
So, the question for today is: What is it for you? What are you seeking to make your heart whole, what do you think will complete you?
For many it is a person, whether you use the term “soul-mate” or “spouse” or “lover”— you’re looking for that special someone that will somehow sweep you off your feet (or that you can sweep off their feet), and you can gaze into each other’s eyes forever as you journey through life together.
For others of you right now it’s family that completes you: having children (or grandchildren) who you can love and who love you. Or maybe it’s career: finding the money or power or prestige or simply satisfaction that goes with that perfect job. Maybe your treasure is having that body that can sweat through a marathon or careen down a mountain bike trail, or maybe it’s just having a quiet, trouble-free life.
Whatever you are seeking to complete you, there are three problems with your quest:
Your first problem is that you may find your treasure unattainable. You may not be able to find that perfect mate or that perfect job or that perfect body. What happens when you decide within yourself you can never be whole without being married, and yet year after year goes by and you’re still single? You have no choice: you either live in misery with a big pit in the center of your soul, or you try to make a square peg fit in a round hole. You marry that person you really know wasn’t right for you, or you take that job that ends up emptying your soul, or you try to stop up the hole with some other pleasure or pastime.
Second, you may find that treasure didn’t complete you after all. You get your dream job or the children you longed for and you realize your heart is still empty. What do you do then? You either have to lead a disappointed life or toss away your first treasure in search of a better one.
Third, you may find a treasure that seems to complete you, but then the pressure’s on for life never to change. You get possessive of those children and wish they would never grow up, or control them so that they fulfill all of your dreams. You live in fear that you may lose your spouse to someone younger or richer or better. Your fears end up poisoning your treasure or poisoning your life.
If all that we seek to complete us will somehow fail us, then what’s the answer? Some people would say to look inward, to not seek any treasure outside yourself, that you are already complete if you would but realize it. That’s a fine sentiment, but it’s not a realistic one. We are all a mixture of beauty and ugliness, treasure and trash. We all have souls that are in need of healing and completion, and it cannot come from within ourselves.
By now, I hope you realize where I’m pointing: the answer is Christ. As 2 Corinthians 9:10 says, “For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him.” In Christ we have a treasure that completes us like no other. Christ doesn’t just give us something that we want, He goes down to the core of our soul and remakes it.
Christ is the completion that we will never have a problem with. We will never have to worry that our treasure is unattainable: Christ has paid the bill, and He offers Himself to us freely. We never have to worry that Christ will not fully complete us: He is both our creator and completer for all eternity. And we never have to fear that Christ will leave us or forsake us: He has promised that nothing will ever separate us from His love and care.
Spouses, family, jobs, & health are all good things that we should enjoy if God blesses us with them. But none can take the place of Christ, the filler & completer of our souls.
John Ames is dying.
He has lived seventy six years in the small Kansas town of Gilead, most of those pastoring the small country church his father & his grandfather pastored before him.
He watches his seven year old son, the son he never thought he would have, playing at his feet, and realizes he will never see him grow up.
And so he writes, trying to distill his soul into words, to tell his son everything his heart yearns to but knows it will not live to do.
I rarely read fiction. I have no desire to be entertained by a book. Instead, I want, no, I need a book to grab me by the throat, wrestle me to the ground, and hold me there until I am so overwhelmed by the goodness of God that I am weeping. And so I read men like Piper & Eldredge & Chan & Crabb, because they can do that to me.
It is rare that a book of fiction has that capacity. Gilead does.
It is a work of stunning beauty & grace & wisdom. I had underlined many passages and shed many tears by the time I turned the last page. It is no surprise to me at all why Marilynne Robinson won the Pulitzer for this novel. Read it. It will bless your socks off.
I am beginning to realize that God gave us this life to enjoy.
The problem is, we often don’t know how to enjoy it properly.
Sometimes we try to wrestle it to the ground and try to force it to give us exactly what we want (as if we could ever know what would really make us happy or ever could get life to bend to our feeble misdirected will).
Sometimes we try to suck it dry, trying to wring every last drop of pleasure from it, as if experiencing pleasure was the only way to enjoy life.
And sometimes we decide that life has forever cheated us of joy, and so we spend our days wailing our private (or public) laments of how life has mistreated us. I have erred greatly in all three of these ways– wrestling, wringing, & wailing.
Instead, the path to enjoying life is rather like walking along a beach, which I happened to do today. Enjoying life walking along a beach requires no grasping or striving. You just need to open your eyes, and there joy will be, moment by moment.
As I pen these words I am sitting under a beach umbrella, listening to the sounds of my children laughing and the waves crashing along the shore. I look at my family and feel the wind gently patting my cheek. This is the way to enjoy life, and this is as God intended it to be.
“This tape will self-destruct in five seconds…”
For some of you that will be a familiar line, voiced at the beginning of each episode of Mission: Impossible by a tape recorder that started smoking even as its reels continued to turn. But even before the tape began to roll, you already knew what was going to happen. That tape recorder was manufactured to carry only one message and play it only once. That tape recorder was made to self-destruct.
Have you ever stopped to consider that you are no different than that tape recorder? Your body, down to the last cell, has been pre-programmed to self-destruct. It is in our very genetic structure, and in the nature of the current physical universe. No matter how healthy you are, no matter how well you take care of your body, you will eventually grow old and die. God has already programmed you to self-destruct.
The Bible speaks very pointedly to this fact:
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14)
Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. (Job 14:1)
We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. (2 Samuel 14:14)
Is this simply indulging in despair, to think of death? No, or else God would not have inspired these words to be recorded in the Scriptures. These words are in the Bible because God wants us to consider the nature of our lives. The poet-warrior David even prayed to God to help him grasp his own mortality in Psalm 39:
O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!
So, we are like that tape-recorder in that we are programmed to self-destruct. But we are also like that tape recorder in another way: we have a message. Each one of us has a message to give to the world in our life, a message of love & hope & worship & joy & obedience toward God. Each one of us is unique, and each one of us is important, and each one of us can glorify our Creator.
But guess what— there is one way we are different from the tape recorder. The tape recorder knew how much time it had. It knew when there was only five seconds left. We don’t. We don’t know when the message of our lives will be finished, and the tape will stop rolling. We know our time is brief, but only God knows how long our tape is.
You have only one message, and you only get to play it once. Give it all that you have, starting today. Your tape is running, starting now…
Tick, tick, tick.
As I journey along this curious path called life, I have been blessed by many signposts along the way. Friends & mentors, books & the Scriptures, wise advice & quiet introspection. But today I had an out of the ordinary signpost, one that woke me up this morning in the form of a dream:
In this dream I was walking in the office building that my father worked in when I was a child. I thought to myself, “I’ll look into his office one more time.” But when I walked in I was in a huge room about the size of a school gymnasium, mostly empty, with skylights in the ceiling letting light in. All was white except for a few splashes of orange on the walls. This wasn’t what I expected at all, & I was both intimidated & disappointed. I turned to exit the building but found that there was drywall covering the front entrance doors.
I don’t usually try to “figure out” dreams, but I started pondering the simple but stark images and what they could mean. I saw that the office itself represented my future, & I realized that each detail had a meaning, one about how I needed to view my life.
First, I saw that my future can’t be contained in the confines of my past. Although the past is familiar and more comfortable, that’s not where my future lies, and the sooner I accept it, the sooner I can actively seek it out. Until I am willing to step out of my comfort zone, I will never experience what God has in store for me. And what God has in store for me is MUCH bigger than the little room I would feel comfortable staying in.
Second, I saw that my future is mine to create. This empty room represented the empty canvas of my future; one that was mine to paint by my own choices and actions. The content and the beauty of the canvas will be mine to decide. Even so, I was reminded to include happiness in my choices by the splashes of orange, the color of happiness.
Third, I saw that God will light my way. That wasn’t a long stretch of interpretation considering this room was brightly lit from above me & outside. It also wasn’t a long stretch considering God’s many promises in Scripture of the light of His presence & guidance. I can rest assured that I will never be without His light.
Finally, I saw that my future was my responsibility. When I tried to leave I found that I could not. I cannot dodge or evade or check out of the responsibility that God has entrusted to me. This is why I am still on this planet; this is why I am living; to fashion a future worthy of my gifts & God’s glory. May I be faithful to fashion it well.
“It is our deepest need, as human beings, to learn to live intimately with God.”
John Eldredge has been writing about walking with God for over ten years, since the publication of The Sacred Romance in 1997. His latest book, Walking with God, is his most deeply personal & may become his most controversial as well.
Walking with God is not structured as a typical book at all: instead, it is a written retelling and explanation of his own walk with God over the course of a year. It has no specific goal or direction; it is simply his life day by day, and how he saw God guiding and teaching him.
Interspersed with these personal experiences are explanations of his own worldview and approach to walking with God. Two core issues he spends a lot of time with are spiritual warfare and conversational intimacy with God.
Eldredge’s view of spiritual warfare is that demonic attacks, both in the form of physical ailments and mental and spiritual clouding, are very real and very common, almost an everyday occurrence, and that it takes concentrated, specific prayer to overcome them. Eldredge’s view of “conversational intimacy” is that God really can speak to us, to enlighten and guide us, and that we can learn to listen to His voice.
These paradigms are very foreign and even antithetical to most evangelical Christians. Eldredge fully realizes this, but does not try to build an elaborate structured case for his theology. After all, Eldredge is not a theologian at heart, but a storyteller. Consequently, I think he realized that he could be most effective in teaching his way of walking with God by telling stories, and not by trying to write a theological tome.
I actually am both theologian and storyteller. The theologian in me has always bristled at some aspects of Eldredge’s theology, and yet the storyteller in me sees much truth and much goodness in it as well. Did I agree with all the theology in this book? No, I did not. Did I take page after page of detailed notes, being struck again and again by his honesty and insight? Yes I did.
Walking with God is a profoundly challenging book, one that I will re-read, meditate and pray over. I believe John wanted to create a book that would make people take a hard look at their definition of what it means to truly walk with God, and then show them a path to a richer and fuller life.
More information about the book from Amazon.com is available here.
I’ve been working on an anthology of some of my posts, and it is finally here! I’ve entitled it Learning Through Life, and it has 46 short chapters drawn from my writings over the years. My only desire with the project is to make my writings more accessible for people to read, so a PDF E-Book is FREE and the 148 page paperback is $7.47, which is the publisher’s printing cost (hope LULU.COM doesn’t find out I put “zero” as my markup!).
I would love everybody to have & enjoy this free e-book.
Here is the link: Light Along the Journey Media
I’ve never bought a bluegrass album before in my life.
How did that happen?
Sunday I was getting sick on hot sauce at Dollywood’s BBQ & Bluegrass Festival. I had heard something about the Peasall Sisters, and was curious to hear them sing. They had gotten their start eight years ago while auditioning for an acting role in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?. After hearing them sing, the producers landed them a spot on the movie’s soundtrack, which went on to earn the girls a Grammy on their first professional recording. From there came contact with stars like Patty Loveless and John Carter Cash, who was entranced enough with them to volunteer to produce their latest album, Home to You.
And so I sat down, clutching my burning belly, to see what three teenagers on mandolin, guitar, and fiddle would offer up on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I suddenly forgot my acute gastritis as I was entranced by some of the sweetest melodies I’ve ever heard.
The title cut of their album, written by them, put me into tears:
I’ve been traveling this road for miles
Trying to get to where You are
I know You’re telling me the way to go
But I just can’t hear You over my heart
Give me grace to make it through the night
Give me faith so I can see the light
Give me strength so I can make it home
To You, home to You
My feet are tired of carrying this load
It seems I’m walking round and round
I need somebody to help me out
Because I want to be standing on Your holy ground
Give me grace to make it through the night
Give me faith so I can see the light
Give me strength so I can make it home
To You, home to You
The sisters wrote this song for a friend who had recently embraced Christianity, but it spoke deeply to me as a prayer for any pilgrim in this life who is looking forward to heaven and praying for the grace to carry on.
The album is a mixture of original compositions, bluegrass standards, and gospel hymns. I loved it. Click on the album cover to find out more at Amazon, or do what I did and spend ten bucks on iTunes. Go get it.