Author’s note & pet peccadillo:
Today, apart from being incredibly grateful to Ray Ortlund for His obedience to God in writing such a timely post as we’ll dive briefly into, I also can’t resist the temptation to play Spelling Nazi. Kelly Talamo named the environment “Men Step Up”, because in his words “lives change when men ‘step up’ to the Truth”.
I can’t tell you how many times I hear people ask “Hey, are you going to Men’s Step Up this week?” Okay, I can, I’ll just wind up gritting my teeth into dust… You get the point… I’ll step down off the soap box and put away my red pen. It’s not like I don’t occasionally invent my own words or brutally murder a rule or two of decent, English grammar…
Spurring One Another On…
|What happens at the tables never
stays at the tables. Praise God!
This past Friday morning, I had the opportunity to “bring it” at Men Step Up, Gwinnett. Essentially that means I was tasked with standing up in front of a crowd of guys, (many of whom intimidate the heck out of me from a spiritual standpoint), and “provoking” them toward a discussion that would take place at their tables.
These weekly discussions are proctored by a table leader and outlined by about 4 or 5 questions on the front of an index card (see picture, right). The back side of the card will normally have a lie on it that many of us have either bought into, wrestled with in real life, or both, as well as a few select lines from scripture that either individually or collectively debunk the lie.
If you’ve been reading the blog at all last week (Part 1, Part 2), you know we’ve been talking about the context for current struggle, trial, aggravation, etc. as a lead up to that event. I had planned to present this morning’s post as a combined update/devotional on the topic. However, it seems the day after I spoke, Ray Ortlund posted an article that capped off our discussion perfectly in a mere 20 sentences.
So, here it is in its entirety with a brief send off from me at the end:
(Please, visit Ray’s blog from time to time at this link: Ray Ortlund. Original post here.)
“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 9:7-9
We could take any of three approaches to the daily experience of this earthly life.
One, this present experience is all we have, our only chance at a little happiness. But absolutizing this life puts enormous pressure on us, intensifying our desperation and pushing us toward doing stupid things. Worse, it cuts us off from the endless love of God in Christ.
Two, this present experience is a stepping-stone into eternity, which is all that matters even now. This broken world is more to be endured than enjoyed. Indeed, this world and everything about it are an embarrassment to any serious person.
Three, this present experience is brief, non-ultimate and good. While it lasts, it is to be dignified — not absolutized or despised but dignified — as a gift from God. This life is a mixture of grace and tragedy, a good creation marred by our human folly. So, the wise seek the things that are above, where Christ is (Colossians 3:1), and they receive with thanksgiving the good things God gives here and now (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
The first approach is the unbelief of visceral idolatry. The second approach is the unbelief of pious negativism. The third approach is wisdom. It is biblical, humane, sustainable.
Have a good day.
The fact that Ray & I have never met and yet he wrote the perfect synopsis of what we were talking about on the very same day, he’s dead on point here. In last week’s post and our discussion at Men Step Up, we concluded that eternal rewards are the context for current suffering, that current rewards are no indicator of eternal and Godly appreciation, and that when it comes to rewards, we have a three tiered “compensation plan”:
One time paycheck: “Atta boy!!!” (remarkably temporary, a la Matt. 6:2, Matt 6:5, Matt 6:16)
Royalties only: “I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (see Rev. 2 & 3) or
Earthly Reward and Eternal 401K: “do everything without arguing or complaining. (Phil. 2:14)”, “Enjoy life… (Ecc. 9:8)” and “I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Rev. 2:23b)”
I was amazed at how pertinent this message was for the guys in attendance, at that moment. It may well be pertinent to you right now. Regardless of its relevance in your current season of life, this is a topic neither you nor I will fully grasp in a handful of blog posts or even conversations with godly men and women – this is one of those things that requires the illuminative power of the Holy Spirit to make clear and present in our everyday mindset. It may also require diligent and thirsty searching of the scriptures.
Be encouraged, be spurred on, and be aware: That Day is coming when we will all receive rewards at the judgment seat of Christ. May your inheritance be great and may you enjoy this life and the one to come.
Yesterday, a friend of mine was watching one of the Lord of the Rings movies and commented cleverly Tweeted “[Gollum] Smeagol needs to work on his self-talk. Very conflicted inside.”
If you’ve never seen the movies, Smeagol is a disturbed and disturbing character who represents the inward and outward impact of sin on our lives over the long haul. Consequently, he is both tortured and twisted on the outside and in, having been visibly impacted by his enslavement to the fleshly desires, represented by the Ring of Power he so deeply covets. We could probably end in prayer here, right?
So, What’s the Problem?
The quality of our self talk is a reflection of the quality of our hearts. Gollum’s self talk is much more “talk” than “self” because it comes out of his mouth so often referring to himself as “we” – conflicted and vehemently self deprecating. At one point, he even takes a stand against… uh, himself… arguing with his own reflection, which accuses him of murder. I’m actually refreshed by this in some ways: at least we know what’s on Gollum’s mind. No guesswork required!
Today, I’m reading Proverbs 23:1-8. Check it out – it’s all about the inward motives of the heart. It’s all about unseen, “private” thoughts. When I meditate on this stuff, I’m mildly refreshed by Gollum’s “self-talk”: at least we know what’s going on in his mind. There’s no guess work here. Even though Jesus tells us very clearly that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”, some people have developed a really powerful filter that prevents the truth from coming out… at least for a time.
Kick the Habit, Not Yourself
I’ve got a few friends that consider themselves addicts. For good reason – one of them has relapsed into chemical dependency no less than a dozen times this year. I know God’s going to pull him out of this and fully deliver him eventually. But, in the meantime, it’s hard for me to watch how hard he kicks himself when he’s down, calling himself names like “addict”, “doper”, “stoner”, etc. Last week, I was flipping through Ephesians and noticed several words highlighted. Every one was an identity statement: descriptive of how God thinks of us and who we are in light salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.
Here are a few of them:
- v. 1 saint
- v. 1 faithful in Christ Jesus
- v. 3 blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ
- v. 4 chosen before the foundation of the earth
- v. 4 holy and blameless in Christ
- v. 5 predestined to adoption as [a] son
- etc., etc…
You get the point, right? We see ourselves one way “for as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23.8 NASB), yet God knows our hearts. If we were to examine our own self talk, we’d get a very accurate picture of who we think we are. But, what would happen if we were to hold those results up against the way God truly sees us in Christ? Just because we think it doesn’t mean it’s true.
There are dozens of “identity” statements throughout the NT that result from our faith in Christ. God not only put them there, but also preserved and protected the canon of scripture not that we would worship the word of God, rather that we would worship the God of the Word, and come to know Him and consequently how He thinks of us… in Christ.
If you are in Christ, you are a new creation, adopted by God and given the gift of sonship [which includes daughtership, but is no relation to the Mother Ship] and eternal life. That may be very different from how you see yourself or think about yourself. God knows the relationship between what is in our hearts and what comes out of our mouths. He also knows that the way we think of ourselves determines a lot of how we behave. If we would just obey the scripture and think of ourselves as He does, what difference would it make in our day, our week, our weakness, our battles against the private thoughts that so easily corrupt our day?
Let’s not go back to being the “stingy [evil eye]” man who sees himself like Smeagol. Let’s trust in the only One who holds the words of life.
Cristine and I both have a tendency to lean toward the Psalms in our reading during troubling times. Isn’t there something refreshing to know that David, a flawed man, yet a man “after God’s own heart” was used to write some of the most God-exalting yet gritty and honest-to-God poetry in the whole canon of scripture? We both find it very comforting that in one line of a psalm, David is railing on about how the wicked prosper or how his bones ache because of his affliction(s), yet a line or two later he’s on about the faithfulness of God or God being a refuge and strength.
As we walk alongside Brianna, our oldest daughter, through the most challenging season of her life, we’re also engaged in conversation and discipleship with other men and women who are experiencing the same deeply troubling adolescent trauma with their own children. We’re grief stricken at the painful and damaging choices we’re seeing so many teenagers make and the struggles that are so very present and real in their lives, fueled and exacerbated by a media rich, pornified, and bullying culture And, we are encouraged. Yep. Encouraged.
In Psalm 10, King David is ruling over Israel, supreme in command of the nation next to God alone, yet seeing the injustice and self-centered, godlessness of the wicked in his culture, wonders what you or I might wonder against the same unjust backdrop – “Where is God?! Am I the only one seeing this stuff?!” (rollover for Psalm 10:1) One piece of perspective David never loses, even in questioning God is this: he sees spots, “bright spots” of God’s faithfulness. Throughout, he refers to God as YHWH – “I Am, That I Am”, the holiest of God’s names. “I Am” implies God’s sovereignty and omnipresence and later, David backs off a bit to acknowledge that”
“you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.”
and lands the plane at:
16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.
17 You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.”
In the midst of our troubles and the great struggles Brianna and her peers are experiencing in the midst of a wicked and godless culture, God has repeatedly shown us glimpses of brightness – “You hear, O LORD, the desire… You encourage them, and listen to their cry.”
Where are the “bright spots” in your current strife? Where are the places where God has already shown Himself to be the faithful and just defender of the poor, marginalized, suffering, and/or righteous? If not for you, for others? In light of the fact that God owes us nothing but judgment, yet has given us mercy and grace by slaying Christ on the cross in our place, what do we really have to complain or ache about? (Neither David, Cristine, nor I say this flippantly, but as men and woman currently bearing turmoil, stress, and even persecution.)
Can I trust that though I don’t “see” God coming to my aid/defense/rescue that He is not ignoring, forgetting, or deleting my prayers from His inbox? Are you banking too heavily on rewards for righteousness and punishment for wickedness in this age rather than on the age to come?
God is still on the throne – if we are followers of the living, resurrected Christ and not mere deists or theists, we worship a God who does not turn a blind eye to our troubles and will show Himself in “bright spots”, if not during the storm, at least after. We do not have a temporal hope, we have an eternal hope – that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2. Cor. 5.10)” The wicked will not go unpunished forever. The righteous will not go unrewarded forever. There will come a day, though it may not be today or even this age, but God is watching and rewards are both His to give and forthcoming.
PRAY: “Lord, You are the great ‘I AM’. Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine that You are watching, present, or even good when compared to what is going on around me. Help me to know that You are watching, You are present, and You can be trusted to be good. By the power of Your grace via the Holy Spirit, encourage me in this time – show me a ‘bright spot’ in the storm to remind me of Your past, current, and future faithfulness.”
“…do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity… but on account of the wickedness of these nations… Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff necked people. (Deut. 9.4-6 NIV)”
Ouch! That Doesn’t Just Hurt My Neck.
“Stiff necked?” That doesn’t sound very “Jesus with long, flowing hair, holding a little lamb and playing with children” warm and fuzzy… I thought God was love and He loved me enough to send Jesus to die for me. Now, He’s calling His chosen people “stiff necked”?
It means “stubborn” and, yes, Israel was being stubborn. You and I are often stubborn. Often, we take more credit for things that God does through us than we ought to. God makes it very clear not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New, that He has a plan and is set out on reconciling the lost to Him, wiping out wickedness not because of the righteousness of those He is pursuing, but because of His own righteousness. God… is… Holy. Without Christ’s substitutionary death (and resurrection), we’re not. Not holy. Ouch, is right. (Read on, this isn’t a permanent stiff neck…)
Even after we become Christians (justification & salvation), we’re still not perfect. We have a new identity in Christ, but we’re not fully mature and glorified. Be encouraged. Despite our best efforts, God will accomplish what He has planned. The wicked will be punished eternally through separation from God. We who are considered “righteous by faith” will even forfeit some eternal rewards for our own wickedness. God is still sovereign. You are adopted into His family not by your own merit, but by His righteousness (see also, Eph. 2.8)
“So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Phil 2.12-13, HCSB)”
Let’s Loosen That Neck
God is on track, pursuing an oft stubborn, off track and proud traitor race. This is not a license to do whatever we want – it is freedom from the condemnation the enemy of God would crush us with when we do falter. The great news is – God is sovereign regardless of our shortcomings and He is at work in us, giving us both the strength and the desire to do His work (see previous verse).
Today, may you keep a healthy perspective that you and I are not the reason why things work out well when they do. Yet, you and I are not hopeless when things don’t work out. You and I are not the solution to every problem, no matter how talented or in the zone we are. God Himself is the only one worthy of the name “I Am”, making us worthy of the name “I am not” (HT: Louie Giglio). I would only add “I Am Not, and That’s Okay” to the name-tag.
May the great “I Am” strengthen you in confidence when you are in doubt, not because you are all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips, but because He is already and always on track with His perfect plan. May He encourage you throughout your day when the Accuser comes calling to tell you that you’re stiff necked and that’s all you’ll ever be. May you be in your circumstances, but not defined by your circumstances.
Why? Every week, I hope God squeezes some truth out of my fingertips and onto our blog that may encourage you. Often, He has given me the dubious honor of telling you about landmines in the road by pointing to the limbs I’ve blown off as a living mine-sweeper. Here’s a lesson that cost me an arm and a leg in a very figurative sense. I hope you don’t step in the same spot now.
The End of Superman
Last year, I believe God Himself brought me to a low point. Through a season of conflict in our home, confusion in our marriage, near-crisis in ministry, and crushing exhaustion, He made me keenly aware of my own weaknesses and limitations. I looked at my wife one afternoon, actual tears streaming down my face as I grieved the loss of a favorite illusion.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
I pushed four, feeble words out of my mouth: “I’m not Superman anymore…”
I fought God for years, on this, but had finally begun the process of submitting to Him “one last stronghold” in my life – busyness. I’d heard the Mary/Martha parable for years and reacted the same way every time – “that’s a great story, Jesus.” and walked away from it each time thinking “but, that’s a story for women. It’s not about me.” I’d even preached it to other men… Ironic, isn’t it?
Oops. Only last year did I realize how narrow was the gap between “busy” and “burnout”.
Desperate for a Word
Only in that low, exhausted, “feeling like butter that’s been spread over too much bread” time could I become so starkly aware of the fact that I was running on my own steam, my own agenda, and allowing the noisy world to drown out the clear and present voice of my Lord. I recall crying out to him for relief many times over a period of weeks only to run into the same wall again only days later with what seemed like no reply from the Spirit. “I’ve gotta hear from you, Lord.” became the preamble to my every prayer.
Early one November morning, reading through Psalm 33:16-22 (roll over for reference HT: reftagger) came a reply from the Word and, I believe, a Word from the Lord.
For some reason I paused at this like a flashing red light – looking both ways to see what was coming – and I swear, I heard the Lord say a bunch of thingsanswering question’s I’d laid out in prayer for the preceding weeks, capped off by three words: “Respond. Rely. Rest”
Are you in a season where you’re so busy doing so many things, putting out so many fires, that the majority of what you do falls in the bucket of “react”? “Respond” carries a far more calculated and prudent meaning with it than “react”, wouldn’t you agree? Are you, somewhere, trying to save yourself by a large army or great strength, when a more calculated, wisdom-based approach could yield smarter, compounded results?
My friend Steve’s favorite question to ask headstrong, overachieving men is: “who ya’ depending on?” So, “who are you relying on, right now?” If your answer now, like mine then, is anything other than an immediate, resounding “God”, God is your co-pilot, when He’s offered to be your pilot. Switch seats. Rely. Really.
- Watching the movie “Grace Card” the other night, I was dumb-struck by a scene where a doctor tells a father he can’t donate his kidney to save his son’s life because he has hypertension. I thought of how badly I’ve treated my own body with lack of rest and a “sleep when you’re dead” mentality, not considering how heart-broken I’d be if a doctor told me I was ineligible to save my own son’s life because I’d abused my own body into some one of those self-inflicted “old people” diseases. Are you stuck in the performance track with no discernible periods of regular rest? Who is standing in your shadow right now that would be impacted by your demise, even if you were “merely sidelined temporarily”?
You’re not the first idiot to fall into the undesirable place you may be at. You’re not even the first smart, seasoned person to fall for it, either. God’s eye is on you, but you’ve got to fear Him, depend on His faithful love, and position yourself for delivery by waiting on Him, not relying on you, your strength, or false hope in your horse or large army. None of this is based on how long you’ve been following Jesus or how convoluted and confusing your current circumstance. It’s all based on the simplicity of hope in God.