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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.

Book Review: Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions

I received a review copy of Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions, eager to have a current resource for relevant information about world religions from a Christian perspective. This large (800+pages) book has information on a variety of world religions, from Baha’i to Witchcraft. It also has an excellent introductory chapter detailing the author’s perspective on the study of religions from an evangelical Christian perspective, including a discussion of cults and ten tests for truth in religion.

The book does a good job of detailing the major religions of the world, including their history, theology and practices, major controversies, and more. There are many timelines and short biographical sketches of major leaders interspersed throughout the chapters. It also has an extensive chapter on various facets of “New Age” spirituality which are missing from older books.

This book does, however, fall short in several areas. First, it is not a “comprehensive” introduction as listed on the cover, for it does not cover every religion. Second, I was disappointed that the book was not unified or systematic in its approach. Essentially, this is actually 19 smaller books, because each chapter has its own approach and internal organization. There is a whole chapter on Branch Davidians for reasons that are unclear, unless the author just had a particular interest in them and had enough material for an entire chapter. Freemasonry is a subcategory in the New Age chapter, also for reasons that are a mystery to me. Some religions have a table at their end with such listings as typology, websites, and recommended reading, but the tables don’t all contain the same entries. I would have also appreciated a systematic approach to listing how each religion answers basic world view questions.

Overall, I can recommend this book’s extensive valuable and accurate information, but its shortcomings in organization detract from its value.

Setting Our Minds

And Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:31-33)

Peter probably made a lot of mistakes during his three years with Jesus, as did all the other disciples.  From what we can see from the Gospel accounts, Jesus was a patient teacher.  There are no serial bouts of anger or frustration from the Master.  In fact, this is the only instance of Jesus “rebuking” Peter directly. Generally, Jesus only rebuked demons or people who were focused on trying to spread his “fame.”

But Jesus took swift action when Peter tried to talk him out of dying.  He shocked Peter, comparing the situation to an actual Satanic attack, and then told him the reason for the roughness of His response: “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

When Jesus does something for the only time in Scripture, it’s worth taking a close look the thinker Rodin by martj via flickrat. What was the issue that so concerned Jesus?  It was where Peter was setting his mind. The Greek word in the verse for “setting your mind” is phroneo.  It is used in multiple key passages in the Scriptures (take a look here), but there is not one English word that captures its meaning well.  It means to think, to judge, to have an opinion of, to have a mindset or a focus, but there is an element of the heart there as well, because the original root in Greek is derived from the area around one’s heart.  The KJV translates the word in this passage “to savor.”

Peter’s mind and heart were set on, focused on, the things of man, not the things of God. Paul uses phroneo twice to setup the same contrast between the things of God and the things of man:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossinas 3:2)

One of the most important principles of meditating on Scripture is to put yourself in the picture. And so I thought & prayed, “Where in my life would Jesus say this to me?  Where is my phroneo, my focus, my mindset on the things of man rather than the things of God?”  It’s a good question to ask.  And the answer should lead us away from ourselves and toward God and His Kingdom.

 

Are You Going Places?

suitYou’ve heard it before.

Mention how someone seems to be on the fast-track to prosperity and success, and the reply will come, “Yea, he’s going places.”

Next thing, all of you agree that you would like to meet him, be around him, or better yet be part of his inner circle, take in a little of that excitement, be along for the ride, maybe even have some of that fame and fortune rub off on you.

Yea, we’d like to be “going places” too.

I thought of that when I read about a man who wanted to be “going places” with Jesus.  In Matthew 8:19 he tells Jesus, “Teacher, I will go with you wherever you go.”  This guy had seen Jesus perform miracle after miracle, and saw him draw huge crowds.  Some people were even whispering that he had the power to overthrow the Roman government and become the long-prophesied King of Israel.  This was a guy that was obviously going places.

Or was he?  I think Jesus perceived what was in this man’s heart, and why he was wanting to follow him.  Jesus didn’t praise him for his loyalty, or encourage him in his plans, but simply replied,

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.

In essence, Jesus was telling him, “Look, I’m NOT going places.  I’m not bound for the future fame and success you think awaits me and awaits you if you hang with me.” In another passage Jesus said,

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)

Jesus wasn’t about “going places”— wasn’t about impressing people, racking up promotions, filling up retirement accounts, making the front page.  When asked in his trial whether he had political aspirations, he answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

So, what would Jesus say to me?  About my priorities and plans?  About my desire to “be going places?”  And what would truly following him be about instead?

Don’t Worry, Nothing Can Go Wrong!

lab rat maze by meg & rahul via Flickr

It’s a classic line, that you have heard both from your friends and in dozens of movies:

“Don’t worry, nothing can go wrong!” 

But as we all know, things can.  In the past few weeks I have had to field questions about a certain diabetes medicine that seemed to be safe, and then contradictory research surfaced in the media.  The end result?  After carefully controlled experiments involving tens of thousands of people and dozens of people with doctoral degrees, we still don’t know whether this drug kills people or not.

The human body is just too complex for us to completely predict the effect of a drug.  A drug that appears to save lives after a six month experiment in a thousand people may turn out to be deadly after five years and a hundred thousand people.

What we need is a book that would tell us the exact effects of any drug on the human metabolism, and what drugs are optimal to enhance human life.

Of course, no such book exists.

That’s why I am a little skeptical of most sociological research.  Every week there is a new study that tracks some social phenomenon, whether it be stay at home moms or same sex marriages or divorces or yo-yo usage among geeks.  But if I can’t always tell for sure about about the effects of a drug using a tightly controlled double-blinded study, how reliable is the information in often poorly constructed short term observational studies?  I don’t want to know the effects of divorce five years from now or ten years from now, but a hundred years from now.

In other words, to reach reliable conclusions regarding the effect of anything in human culture, you would need experiments that would be impossible to construct and take decades to complete.  You just can’t base private convictions or public policy on such weak data as sociological research can provide.

What we really need is a book that would definitively tell us the effect of different behaviors on human culture, and what behaviors are optimal to enhance human life.

Hmmmm……

 

bible

 

I Am A Reformed Evangelical (Whatever That Means!)

You scored as Reformed Evangelical, You are a Reformed Evangelical. You take the Bible very seriously because it is God’s Word. You most likely hold to TULIP and are sceptical about the possibilities of universal atonement or resistible grace. The most important thing the Church can do is make sure people hear how they can go to heaven when they die. 

Reformed Evangelical
 
82%
Fundamentalist
 
75%
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
 
71%
Emergent/Postmodern
 
57%
Neo orthodox
 
46%
Classical Liberal
 
21%
Charismatic/Pentecostal
 
21%
Roman Catholic
 
21%
Modern Liberal
 
4%

What’s your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

 

Thanks to John at www.peoplelaunching.com!!

The State of the Evangelical Church

I am very pleased to have my good friend Ken Fletcher, director of development Southeast region for the Alliance Defense Fund, to be guest writing a post this week.  Here is Ken’s take on The State of the Evangelical Church:

As we look at the culture of today and of past generations, we can see a huge change in the worldview that shapes the actions and attitudes of the masses.  One of the most disturbing results of this shift is how those sitting in our church’s pews have a worldview that mirrors that of the world more closely than that of the Scriptures.  A Barna Survey reported that only 7% of those who sit in church with you this Sunday make the cut of having a biblical worldview as the foundation of their lives.  It seems that if this is the case with the church in America , we should stop worrying about “How to evangelize more” and ask “what is church is evangelizing TO?”  Is the goal just to get as many people as possible to recite the “sinner’s prayer”, like Constantine marching his soldiers into the sea for mass baptism?    Before we point our finger at others, we must critically evaluate if we have “conformed to this world or are in the process of renewing our mind” (Romans 12:2). 

A large problem with this discussion is similar to a citizen’s opinion of Congress- “everyone hates the Congress, but everyone likes their representative.”  This is probably the worst case of “everyone else’s poop stinks syndrome” in modern history. Honestly ask, “How Scriptural is your church’s teaching and worship?”  Is it more in tune with the trends of the world or the truths of the scripture?  Does the teaching from your church dismiss everything as “Cultural” that requires change in the lives of the masses it is drawing?  Is being “under grace” used as a trump card over any thought of correction to those that have turned the “grace of God into licenses to sin.” (Jude 1:4)?

The modern trend of losing the word “church” from a fellowship’s title may be more appropriate than one may think.  Too often the gathering every Sunday morning at the local assembly is not for true Biblical worship and teaching, but for evangelism at “any cost.”  All too often what is happening on Sunday is a large group of Christians gathering for the purpose of evangelism at the expense of being a part of a true church.  Yes, evangelism of the lost is a noble goal, but this should not be the focus of every single service.  Glorifying God should be the focus of our worship and as Christ is lifted up, “He will draw all men to Him.” (John 12:32)  In an effort to evangelize at “any cost” we have focused, with pure intentions (hopefully), to make everyone feel comfortable and to make the church more attractive to the lost.   As Christ’s bride we should only be seeking the affections of the Groom.  Are we seeking the approval of God or the approval of men?? (Gal 1:10)   Before you shut your ears, ask the question again.  How concerned is the modern church movement and your “Sunday Gathering” in having biblical worship and teaching?  In an effort not to SCARE people away, are portions of God’s revelation, i.e. scripture or the BIBLE (for those that are involved in evangelism only churches) is not being proclaimed from the pulpits (oh yeah, those are gone too)?  

Remember Martin Luther, and his stand against the abuses of the Church?  They included the unbiblical concepts of indulgences, salvation through works, worship of idols and relics, the mediation of Mary and saints, and the authority of the Pope over Scripture.  The worst offense of the church was its refusal to give the masses the Scriptures.  Now the split from the Catholic Church has come full circle.  The Protestant church, in the name of evangelism, has withheld the full Word of God from those attending our services.  Just as Martin Luther started the reformation against the unbiblical practices of the Catholic Church, now many of our protestant churches have cycled back to the very abuses that fueled the Reformation.

In response to this troubling trend, John MacArthur has made available an interview discussing the “Dangers of the Emerging Church” and a book titled The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception.  Focus on the Family has also produced a 12 hour DVD small group study called The Truth Project under the direction of Dr. Dale Tackett to help reestablish biblical worldview in the Church.

 

Abort73.com

A website that is both informative and well-designed, packed with both eye-popping multimedia and thoughtful articles, on abortion?  Yes, you have it in www.abort73.com, a site that targets both people who don’t know the facts and those who want to make a difference.  Solid, well-researched, stunning site design, wow, it really impressed me.

Last Child in the Woods

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1 NIV)

 

In my first counseling job, I took children with AIDS to the mountains who had never been out of their urban neighborhoods.  One night, a nine year-old woke me up.  She had to go to the bathroom.  We stepped outside the tent and she looked up.  She gasped and grabbed my leg.  She had never seen the stars before.     —Madhu Narayan

 

I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.  —San Diego 4th grader

Something has went wrong. Something very deep & fundamental, states Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods.

Children in America have largely lost nature and wilderness.  Their knowledge of it, their connection to it, their love of it. 

Louv passionately pleads that immersion in God’s creation is not just a “nice thing” for our children, but something vital for their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development.  He goes so far as to give society’s current state a name— “nature-deficit disorder.”

So, is this just one more idea, one more book, or is this something real?

I agree with Louv.  I think both Scripture and experience tell us that God constructed both our bodies and our souls to exist in the rich, beautiful world that he created.  God intended for us to be blessed, as Louv would put it, “biologically, cognitively, and spiritually—through positive physical connection to nature.”  That “time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.”

This is not some flower-child nature worship— it’s just an honest realization of how God made us.  We were not made to be holed up in caves of wood and concrete and steel; we were made to live in God’s creation.  Louv says “in our bones we need the natural curves of hills, the scent of chaparral, the whisper of pines, the possibility of wildness.” 

His conclusion? Alienation from God’s creation, just as alienation from the God Who made it, has deleterious effects on our body and soul.  As Louv quotes Luther Standing Bear, “Man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard.”

His solution? A realization of the importance of living in nature, and then a restoration of that life, both on a personal level, a community level, and a societal level, both in practical steps for today and visionary plans for the future.

I loved this book.  I loved the careful thought that went into it.  I loved all the peppery quotes, like “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing” (author Norman Maclean referring about his father, a Presbyterian pastor) and “God communicates to us (nowhere) with such texture and forcefulness in detail and grace and joy, as through creation…this is what connects humanity, this is what we have in common.  It’s not the internet, it’s the oceans.” (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.).

I loved what this book did to my soul, turning it to God’s creation and its importance for both my children and me.  I loved how it encouraged me to more actively involve my kids in contact with and appreciation of God’s creation.

So what about the spiritual content? Louv writes very broadly and generically about spirituality, interviewing many people from many religious views.  The whole area of our relationship with God’s creation has long been primarily, if not exclusively, the domain of “liberals” and people far from a conservative Christian viewpoint. It is sad that in the book he could find no voice from a reformed theological tradition that could have forcefully and articulately praised his ideas while grounding them solidly in a Biblical worldview. I see some seeds of change within evangelical Christianity regarding a right view and right embracing of God’s gift of His creation.  Hopefully readers of this book can plant some of those seeds in their own lives and in the lives of others in their spheres of influence. 

You can read more about this book by clicking here to take you to Amazon.com.

The Okinawa Program

The Okinawa Program : How the World\'s Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health--And How You Can Too  

America isn’t a very safe place to live.

I’m not talking about crime rates, but about death rates, or more specifically health expectancy rates, which is the length of time a person can expect to live in good health, living independently and productively with a sound mind and body.

The United States ranks 24th, dead last among all developed countries.

Why?  What is so toxic about the American lifestyle?

Well, the old saying goes, if you want to spot a counterfeit, go study a genuine dollar bill.

Likewise, if you want to spot what’s wrong with America, why not go study the healthiest people on Earth?

Well, that’s what two brothers, one a physician and one an anthropologist, have been doing for the past decade in the islands of Okinawa, studying over 400 centenarians—people over 100 years old.  And not decrepit, demented shells over 100 either— people still living in their homes, gardening, walking to market daily, chatting with friends.

Why are they living so long?  Why are their bodies on almost every biochemical measure 20 years younger or more than equivalent American bodies?

That’s the subject of the book The Okinawa Program, and a fascinating read it is.  The authors both try to describe the health and lifestyle of the Okinawan culture, try to explain what is healthy about it, and then how to incorporate it into our lifestyle.

The distinctives that the authors bring out chapter by chapter are a healthy primarily vegetarian diet, regular exercise, a low-pressure lifestyle, use of meditation and other forms of stress-reduction, a close supportive social network, and their “spirituality” which is mostly positive and optimistic in nature.

The book itself is well-written and documented as far as this genre goes.  It’s only downfall (also common to the genre) is tunnel-vision.  The authors’ enthusiasm for all things Okinawan rarely points out anything negative at all about the culture, to the point that you wonder how objective they really are.  Beyond that, they often downplay the very tenuous nature of drawing conclusions about looking backwards and trying to figure out why things are a certain way— you can use common sense and a little science to make a good guess that eating foods high in flavinoids may extend life, but limited science plus common sense has led us down the wrong path many a time before.

Another major point to be made is that these non-Christian authors cannot perceive the difference between mere religion (which they apparently believe is generically good for both its placebo like effect on the human body and possibly tapping into some generic higher power) vs. a genuine relationship with the genuine God.

Of course, this draws a rather brutal line in the sand for those of us who do name the name of Christ.  If our lives have truly been touched by the living God, then why are we dying by the droves in our gluttony and physical laziness and frantically paced American lifestyles, while people who do not know the true God over the ocean are living lives which I suspect more closely model what Christ would have us live?  Food for thought, and a worthwhile book to read and ponder.  Here is a link to Amazon: The Okinawa Program : How the World’s Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health–And How You Can Too