In the Company of Men

Today I got together with a group of men from my church. We met for coffee. There was no agenda. There was no devotional. Unless it happened before I got there, there wasn’t even any prayer. It was just what I needed. We shared everyday problems and kicked around solutions, some helpful, some just silly.

In recent weeks my church participation has fallen off. Our “small group” stopped meeting before the holidays and has not started up again. I have lots of tough issues to deal with in my life, like everyone. It’s easy to begin to feel alone. It was great to spend some time with other men to relax and just to be in their company. Men don’t get together like they used to. There use to be male social clubs and lunch groups, hunting trips and sports road trips. Such gatherings have gone out of style and have even a hint of political incorrectness. I think it’s more than a societal change. I think it’s a spiritual attack.  We now speak of a man “cave” a place we can go to be alone and uninvolved.

Years ago the church  I attended had a wonderful annual men’s retreat. It was a “silent” retreat. One year we invited the women because we had a special speaker they were interested in. That was the end of the silence and, in fact, the end of the retreats.

In the latest issue of Covenant Spotlight, there is an interesting article by Vicky Branton. In part it reads:

“For too long we have spoken ill of the men in our lives, either to their faces or behind their backs. We have cursed them, demeaned them, contradicted them, humiliated them and emasculated them so much that we have lost a great number of gentlemen to the ways of the world. It has become so commonplace that we no longer notice the slander.

As women we have given into manipulation and lust for independence to the point that we deserve the female domination (and subsequent lack of male leadership) so often found in prayer groups, volunteer committees and social outings. That’s not to say that the men who are in the church are ineffective; I know some powerful men of God but there are just too few. ”

We may have once had a male dominated society and even a male dominated church. Not so any more. I am not saying that we need to send women back to the kitchen.  I am saying that being a man is something special; as special as being a woman. We have mutual interests which we should be allowed to share. We have perspective, experience and God-given attributes that are needed for balance. I think our presence and leadership is missed in family, church and society. Maybe it’s time to do something about that.

Doubt and Fear

I am very proud of my family. It’s  full of some great folks. I am particularly proud of one of my nieces. She is an impressive young lady Christian. I was particularly impressed by a Facebook post of hers this week. She said, in part: “I do have moments of Doubt. Fear. Questions . And I’m so thankful to have wise friends that have helped get my thoughts back on the right track and lead me to God’s word. ” She went on to say, “The Lord spoke to me the other day saying ‘You of little faith… You may not see what I am doing now, but you will understand later. Just rest and be strong in my grace. ‘ “

Shari has done what, I believe, many more of us who call ourselves Followers of Christ, need to do. We need to be courageous enough to admit that we have doubts, fears and questions. We need to be brave enough to answer the “How are you?” inquiries honestly. We need to be real. We need to stop believing that an admission of weakness or vulnerability is a disclaimer of our faith and trust in Jesus.

Our current “I’m blessed” response to every inquiry is not always credible or helpful. The effect is that , particularly the young, can conclude that they are not Christians because they struggle with doubt, fear and questions. Let me be personal and clear. I have  doubt and fear. I have frequent questions. I haven’t been willing to admit that often enough. My decades long walk with Jesus hasn’t been straight up hill or stumble free. My anchor is that I can look back on decades of struggle and see the presence of Jesus all along the way.  I can see situations which were terrible then, but in the context of passing time, were for my good.

Those of us who have longer walks with Christ have a responsibility to share the truth of the walk. It’s a cross carrying, doubt battling, day by day struggle. We need to share the miracles we have seen, buy also the valleys we have travelled.

If a twenty-something can do it, us sixty-somethings can as well. Thanks Shari.

Not

I saw a fascinating video on Facebook today. Someone had placed a blackboard and chalk on a street in New York City. At the top they wrote: What do you regret? At the end of the day there was a commonality to the many regrets written on the board: the word, “Not.” It was much rarer to have a regret for something done, than for all the things left undone.

There is something sad about “not” doing something. It is likely the great mystery of wondering what might have been. For the things we’ve done, even the stupid things, at least we know how they turned out. Perhaps we learned how to do things better the next time. We know that we tried. For the things we never do, we don’t have that.  We give up that when we don’t do something.

“Not” is the product of fear. We don’t do because we are afraid.  Our current situation, no matter how dreadful, is at least known. We are somehow convinced that whatever else is out there has to be worse. I was in the Navy for eleven years. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t great. There was a guaranteed paycheck every month, although not a big one. With each passing year there was the increased promise of an early retirement. Thankful my wife and I took the leap and left all that for the unsure future of law school.

What is your big “not”? Why not do it before the chance is lost and it becomes a regret?

 

Power Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

The Gospel of Jesus is a powerful thing. Scripture tells us so. We don’t act like it. We must not think it’s powerful because we add things to it or try to “modernize” it or reform it to make it more palatable  to this generation. We treat it like an old car that needs an engine additive to make it roar down the highway, or last season’s outfit that needs a bit of sprucing up.

If you have experienced the power of the Gospel, you don’t need any explanation. If you haven’t, or you’re not sure, here are some things to consider:

Does the Gospel you have heard, or living or are preaching:

Motivate you to soup it up or tinker with it, if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Make you feel all warm and fuzzy and inoffensive in that Jesus is A way to God, but not necessarily THE way, if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Motivate you to tell everyone about your church, or your pastor, or your favorite tv evangelist,  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Keep you silent in the face of “modern” science which clearly has advanced since the time of Jesus,  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Motivate you to study and discuss the scriptures, and maybe even to teach them, but not to share Jesus,  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Allow you to consider “sin” as “old-testament” or  “politically incorrect,”  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Help you judge a church by how much you are feed, how much better you feel after the service is over, how the music and the preaching “reach” you,  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

Console you in that your job is to sit quietly, listen attentively and write checks neatly,  if so you are dealing with “another” gospel.

If you think your job is to invite someone to your church and not to introduce them to your savior,   you are dealing with “another” gospel.

If you think “repent and be baptized” is extra and optional, you are dealing with “another” gospel.

If you aren’t sure you have heard the “real” gospel, open your new testament to the Book of Acts and read some of the sermons recorded there. Try Peter’s in Chapter 2, or here’s a whole list. They are simple. They talk about Jesus, sin, repentance and salvation. That’s real good news. That’s power gospel.

 

Choices

A couple of nights ago my wife and I lay in bed and took an online personality profile test. You young people can look forward to this kind of late night excitement in the future. The test consisted of lots of questions. The results produced a personality profile that was disturbingly accurate. The really disturbing thing was that for each of our profiles we were provided with a long list of people who had matching profiles. Some of these folks were admirable; others not so much. It was amazing that such a motley group of folks had matching personality profiles.

Obviously what we do in life is only partly determined by our psychological makeups. Obviously some people have more opportunities or “luck” than others. The real difference seems to be in the choices that were made. “Successful” people choose to focus on their careers often over family or leisure. Some chose careers in business or professional fields, while others chose arts or sports. Choices made all the differences.

I am convinced that it’s not just the major life direction choices that are important. Of greater significance are the choices we make each day. Consider that each morning we can choose:

To be happy.

To be thankful.

To be hopeful.

To be generous.

To be focused.

To be a follower of Christ.

In the same we can can daily choose to be unhappy, ungrateful, hopeless, selfish, unfocused and self-centered.

It’s really just a matter of choice. Choose wisely.

 

 

More Chains

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. Romans 7:6

By the time most of us come to Jesus and begin to draw life from the vine, we are well tangled up in chains. Sin doesn’t end with conversion so chain addition continues. For some of us, we come to Jesus because of the pain of a chain of sin. We often experience instantaneous relief from such chains at the time of conversion. These dramatic conversions often produce the most effective followers.

If we could see our complete chain involvement when we come to Christ, we would likely be overwhelmed by it all. Instead, the Holy Spirit shines the light on our chains one-by-one. He brings them to our attention so we can apply the power of grace to them and experience freedom.

It’s important that we recognize the totality of our chain involvement from sin. Chains arise from the sin itself, drawing us into a habit of sin. The harm of sin causes its own chains, binding us to damaged relationships, guilt, and dark histories. We are often chained by the sins of others. Unwise words spoken by our parents, unloving relationships, physical and psychological harm all forge chains that can put a drag on us for years.

Grace has chain breaking power for each of these kinds of chains. As our strength grows  from living in Christ and connected to him as a branch of the vine, we can apply gathered power to the task of chain destruction. The secret is to focus on and rejoice in the vine relationship for which we were created and in which we live and grow and have our being. Chains fall away as we substitute the life-giving strength from the vine for the pseudo comfort we get from our chains. The process will continue until we are finally completely transformed into the complete image of Christ, the model intended from the creation of the world.

Be on alert to those who would rebound us to the law, ending the freedom unshackled in the Spirit.

Of Vines and Chains

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

We were created to be in relationship with God. Jesus illustrated this as a vine and branches. The vine relationship is life-sustaining and power giving. When we are not in that relationship we tend to substitute other connections which are not life-sustaining but are restraining killers. They are chains.

This generation doesn’t like to consider sin. Liberals will say there is no sin or that we define for ourselves what is sin. On the right we tend to pick out certain sins, usually the ones that don’t confound us, and make them the worst infractions. Modern man, therefore, tends to consider sins as a list of forbidden activities, established by an arbitrary God to test us. In fact, God defines for us those things which are harmful and not life-sustaining. The things which are chain producers in our lives.

Atheism is now rampant, particularly among our youth. It is fueled by the idea that God is an old-fashioned, out of date, irrelevant idea. It is believed that sin was established thousands of years ago in a culture completely foreign to that in which we now live. No doubt society has changed. The good news is eternally the same; the point of connection does change as society shifts. Jesus brought the Good News to the children of Israel. They knew about Jehovah. They were familiar with sacrifice in atonement for sin. They awaited the Messiah. When Paul left Israel with the gospel, he met a society unfamiliar with the one true God, sacrifice for sin, or the hope for a Messiah. Paul preached the same Good News as Jesus; he just had to find another plug-in point for the non-jew.

Our society is a rapid and dramatic flux. We need to be constantly alert to points of connection with the unchanging truth. We need to reestablish that God seeks to insure our residence and foundation in the vine. We need to learn that any other connection is a chain binding us to death.

Sin is rarely a singular act. It’s a pattern of behavior that chains us to itself. The first glimpse of porn ties us to the next. The first lie calls us to another and eventually a pattern of misrepresentation.  A “slip” of indiscretion is the first step in a life of infidelity. Sex outside  a committed relationship between a man and a woman is a rejection of the divine invitation to participate in the miracle of creation, and the first step toward a life of futile attempts at self-satisfaction. Sin is a perpetually creating chain of slavery.

Sin creates chains other than to itself. Sin chains us to the world instead of the creator. Sin locks our focus on self instead of God. Sin spreads injury and harm which chains us to guilt and responsibility for damages we can never repair. Sin chains us in relationships that can only disappoint and never fully satisfy. Only the Christ vine existence can forever sustain and satisfy. Choose the vine over chains.

Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant

Do you ever listen carefully to the songs of the season? Sometimes the words give cause for pause. Take Come all Ye Faithful. This is one of the oldest Christian Christmas songs. Written in the 1600’s by monks, originally it was sung in latin, Adeste Fideles. It’s certainly one of my favorites.

It’s the opening line that has me thinking. Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. It’s a call to come and worship the Christ child. The strange thing is that the child is just born. Where could we expect to find “faithful, joyful, and triumphant” folks before God’s salvation plan was executed? The world was dark and lost and in need of a savior. Even now, two thousand years after Jesus paid the price for our sins, faithfulness, joy and triumph are rare.

As I write this I can see a Christmas card set up on our kitchen counter with a single word on it, “Joy.” It comes across not so much as an experienced reality, but a hopeful possibility. I have experienced times of joy, great joy in fact, but it’s not nearly my normal state. Joy doesn’t describe my daily life, but rather something I experience in quickly fading flashes.

Donald Trump is attracting a lot of political attention by proclaiming that American isn’t winning any more. I think it’s because triumph is rare in our national and personal lives. The forces aligned against us seem too many and too powerful. The “good guys” don’t seem to be winning. In fact, they don’t even seem to be around any more.

Maybe the secret is in “faithfulness.”  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrew 11:1. Joy and triumph are things we are not seeing They are more things hoped for. Faith gives substance to joy and victory for which there is now no real evidence. Real joy and real triumph are only possible through real faith.

The promise of Christmas is that through faith, fear can be vanquished and joy and triumph may reign. Come. Let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. May this Christmas meet with Christ increase our faith and make the joy we should feel and the victory that has been won, really real.With the shepherds on that holy night, we can experience joy and triumph the same way they did, through faith.