Monday, November 30, 2015

U2's Bono Understands the Meaning of Christmas

After returning home from a long tour, Bono, the lead singer for U2, returned to Dublin and attended a Christmas Eve service. At some point in that service, Bono grasped the truth at the heart of the Christmas story: in Jesus, God became a human being. With tears streaming down his face, Bono realized:

"The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself by becoming a child born in poverty … and straw, a child, I just thought, "Wow!" Just the poetry … I saw the genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this … Love needs to find a form, intimacy needs to be whispered … Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh."

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bringing the Gospel to Each Other

One of the best ways men can encourage each other with the gospel is simply with honesty and transparency. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about meeting each other as bringers of the gospel — I need the gospel in my brother, my brother needs the gospel in me. In some ways—this might sound odd but it’s true—the gospel in me is stronger than the one in my brother, and the gospel in my brother is stronger than the one in me.

The gospel is meant to be proclaimed, it’s meant to be shared. So we need to meet each other that way. We need to meet each other within the context of our sinfulness and our brokenness, and with the knowledge that neither one of us measures up apart from Christ. In this way, we give each other the freedom to be honest about our own struggles and our own sin, confessing to one another.

There is a healing component to confession like James 5:16 says. When we meet each other in that context, it really provides a great climate for grace to do the powerful work that it does. I am not meeting you as someone who has figured something out that you can’t figure out. I am meeting you as a humble person—as a beggar who has found bread. In the same way, you are meeting me as a beggar who has found bread. We can help each other and rejoice together.

The gospel shared in the context of honesty and transparency is one of the best things that Christian brothers can provide for each other. 

Jared C. Wilson is the director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, and a contributor to the ESV Men’s Devotional Bible.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jesus Followers Among NFL Quarterbacks

Drew Brees; Russell Wilson; Kirk Cousins
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is a Saint in more ways than one. He’s just one of several quarterbacks in the National Football League who profess Christian faith. Indeed, Richard Lindsay, writing at the blog Pop Theology, claims three-quarters of starting NFL quarterbacks are evangelical Christians.

Why so much faith among quarterbacks? And when two Christian quarterbacks play against each other, who—to quote the old hymn—is on the Lord’s side? Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, celebrated a come-from-behind victory over the Green Bay Packers last January, telling Sports Illustrated, “That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special.” Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers disagreed, saying on ESPN Milwaukee radio days later, “I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think He’s a big football fan.”

Wilson’s response? “I think God cares about football. I think God cares about everything He created.” Rodgers either changed his mind or decided to play along: In September, after the Packers beat the Seahawks 27–17, Rodgers remarked, “I think God was a Packers fan tonight.”

It’s hard to know why so many NFL quarterbacks are Christians, but it’s clear that one generation of players helps shape the next. Matt Hasselbeck, now a backup QB for the Indianapolis Colts, was a rookie with the Packers when Reggie White was a team leader. In 2008 Hasselbeck told Sharing the Victory magazine that White studied the Bible faithfully and helped Hasselbeck see that “Jesus was a man’s man. He was a stud. I mean, He was hardcore!”

Faith in Christ certainly doesn’t guarantee NFL success. Tim Tebow became famous as a Christian player for his on-field habit of praying on one knee, head bowed (“Tebowing”), but after some initial success in Denver, he’s been unable to hold onto or gain a QB job in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

One consistent theme from Christian quarterbacks: Football doesn’t last. Kirk Cousins went from Michigan State to the Washington Redskins and addressed the permanency of Christ in an interview with Beyond the Ultimate, a website started by the NFL’s Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith to promote the faith. Cousins said, “I know that football will one day end. Jesus however, and all who know Him, will live forever.”

from World Magazine by James Bruce, associate professor of philosophy at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark.and graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Brother, Where Is Your Identity?

Who are you? What gives a man his identity? On what foundation are you building your sense of self? Your answer, whether true or false, defines your life.

Wrong ways of defining who we are arise naturally in our hearts, and the world around us preaches and models innumerable false identities. But Jesus maps out and walks out a counterintuitive and countercultural way to know who you are. Your true identity is a gift of God, a surprising discovery, and then a committed choice.

What are the ways men get identity wrong? Perhaps you construct a self by the roles and accomplishments listed on your résumé. You might identify yourself by your lineage or ethnicity, by your job history or the schools you attended, by your marital status or parental role. Perhaps you define who you are by your political leanings or the objects of your sexual longings. Maybe you consider yourself to be summed up in a Myers-Briggs category or a psychiatric diagnosis. Your sense of self might be based on money (or your lack thereof), on achievements (or failures), on the approval of others (or their rejection), on your self-esteem (or self-hatred). Perhaps you think that your sins define you: an angry man, an addict, an anxious people-pleaser. Perhaps afflictions define you: disability, cancer, divorce. Even your Christian identity might anchor in something that is not God: Bible knowledge, giftedness, or the church denomination to which you belong. 

In each case, your sense of identity comes unglued from the God who actually defines you.

God’s way of sizing up a man goes against the grain of our instinctive opinions and strategies. Here are six basic realities to orient you:
  • Your true identity is who God says you are. You will never discover who you are by looking inside yourself or listening to what others say. The Lord gets the first word because he made you. He gets the daily word because you live before his face. He gets the last word because he will administer your final “comprehensive life review.
  • ”Your true identity inseparably connects you to God. Everything you ever learn about who God is—his identity—correlates specifically to something about who you are. For example, “your Father knows your need” means you are always a dependent child. “Jesus Christ is your Lord” means you are always a servant.
  • Who God is also correlates with how you express your core identity as your various roles in life develop. For example, the Bible says that God’s compassion for you is like that of a father with his children (Ps. 103:13). You will always be a dependent child at your core, but as you grow up into God’s image, you become increasingly able to care for others in a fatherly way.
  • Your instinctive sense of identity is skewed. In the act of suppressing the knowledge of God (Rom. 1:18–23), a fallen heart suppresses true self-knowing. Whenever we forget God, we forget who we are.
  • A true and enduring identity is a complex gift of Christ’s grace. He gives a new identity in an act of mercy. Then his Spirit makes it a living reality over a lifetime. When you see him face to face, you will know him as he truly is, and you will fully know who you are (1 Cor. 13:12). 
  • Your new and true identity connects you to God’s other children in a common calling. It is not individualistic. You are one member in the living body of Christ.
Now consider a few of the details. Don’t skim through. You will never be gripped by these truths if you treat them merely as an information download.
  • All good gifts, beginning with life itself, come from God. You will never be independent. The Lord sustains our lives physically. And every word from the mouth of God gives life. And, supremely, Jesus Christ is the bread of life. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am his dependent.”
  • Our dependency as created beings is compounded, complicated, and intensified by sins and by sufferings. To know ourselves truly is to know our need for help. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am poor and weak.”
  • The Lord is merciful to the wayward. He redeems the sinful, forgetful, and blind. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am sinful—but I am forgiven.”
God is our Father. He adopts us in Christ, and by the power of the Spirit, he gives us a childlike heart. We need parenting every day. We need tender care, patient instruction, and constructive discipline. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am God’s child.”
  • The Lord is our refuge. Our lives are beset by a variety of troubles, threats, and disappointments. We aren’t strong enough to stand up to what we face. God’s presence is the only safe place. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am a refugee.”
  • The Lord is our shepherd. He laid down his life for the sheep. He watches over our going out and coming in. We need looking after and continual oversight. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am a sheep in his flock.”
  • Christ is Lord and Master. He bought us with a price; we belong to him. We need someone to tell us what to do and how to do it. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am a servant, indentured for life.”
  • The Lord is married to his people. He patiently nourishes and cherishes his wife, the living body of Christ. We need husbanding from someone faithful, kind, protective, and generous. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I submit to Jesus.”
  • God searches every man’s heart. We live before his eyes. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am a God-fearing man.”
  • Our God is good, mighty, and glorious. He is worthy of our trust, esteem, gladness, and gratitude. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am a worshiper.”
We could go on! The pattern is obvious. Every core aspect of a man’s identity expresses some form of humility, need, submission, and dependency before the Lord. Our culture and our hearts might claim that masculinity means being independent, self-confident, proud, strong, assertive, decisive, tough-minded, opinionated, and unemotional. But Jesus is the true man, and he is unafraid of weakness, lowliness, and submission. He came as a helpless and endangered child. He became dependent, poor, afflicted, homeless, submitted—an obedient servant entrusted with a job to do. He became a mere man and died in pain—committing his spirit into God’s hands, depending by faith on the power of the Spirit to raise him. He feels every emotion expressed in the Psalms.

Yet Jesus is also strong. He is leader, teacher, and Lord. He speaks with decisive authority. He helps the weak. He forgives the sinful. He has mercies to give away. He faces the hostility of men with courage and clarity. He lives purposefully. He goes out looking for his lost sheep. He does the things God does.

How did these two things fit together in Jesus’s life, and how do they fit together in ours? Here is the pattern: Core identity as a man leads to the calling to act like God. Weakness leads to strength. Serving leads to mastery. Deaths lead to resurrections. It never works the other way around. When your core identity is meek and lowly—like Jesus—then your calling develops into his image of purposeful, wise, courageous love. You become like God.

The order matters. You become generous and merciful to others by continually receiving generous mercies. You learn how to protect others by finding refuge in the Lord. You develop into a good father by living as a well-fathered child of your Father. You develop into a masterful leader by living as a well-mastered servant. You develop into a wise teacher by being a well-taught learner. You learn how to husband a wife in love by being well-husbanded by Christ. You develop into a caring pastor of others by living as a well-pastored sheep of your Shepherd. You become a surprisingly good counselor by being well-counseled by your Wonderful Counselor.

Of course, in much of life, we function in roles where others are over us, and we live in honorable dependency and submission. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet. 2:13). Leaders in one sphere submit in other spheres. The pastor of your church is subject to the church’s governing authorities. A father of children owes honor to his own mother and father. When your core identity is in Christ, you bear fruit whether he calls you to serve as a leader or to serve as a servant.

Finally, consider that all your present callings will someday come to an end. When you grow old, frail, and helpless, you will become someone else’s charge and responsibility. But your true identity is imperishable. You will still abide in Christ. And when he appears, you will appear with him in glory (Col. 3:4).

David Powlison is a faculty member at CCEF and a council member for The Gospel Coalition. David has been counseling for more than 30 years. His books include Speaking Truth in Love; Seeing with New Eyes; Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare; and The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context.

Note: This is an excerpt from the new ESV Men’s Devotional Bible (Crossway, 2015). 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Pastor's Journey from Gay Pride Parades to the Pulpit

How Caleb Kaltenbach shed his anti-Christian upbringing...

Interview by Morgan Lee/ October 14, 2015

When Caleb Kaltenbach was two years old, both his mother and father came out as gay, then got a divorce. Growing up, he absorbed their antagonism toward Christians, but went on to embrace Christianity as a teenager. In Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction (WaterBrook Press), Kaltenbach, a pastor in Southern California, charts the path to reconciling with his parents, who are now both believers. Christianity Today assistant editor Morgan Lee spoke with Kaltenbach about his experiences ministering to people with same-sex attraction.

Where did your youthful hatred of Christians come from?

My mom and her partner were active in gay-rights organizations. They took me to gay clubs, parties, and campouts. I marched in gay pride parades and went to political events. That was just my life.
I hated Christians because I saw how they treated gay people. At the end of one parade, I saw signs saying, “God hates you.” Protesters were spraying water and urine on people. I asked my mom, “Why are they acting that way?” She said, “Caleb, they’re Christians, and Christians hate gay people.” My dad and I sometimes attended an Episcopal church, but it didn’t teach me much about God. I was an altar boy but fell asleep during most services. I learned that evangelicals were people who wouldn’t like you if you weren’t a white Republican.

How were you able to repair the relationship with your parents?

After I came to Christ, my parents were irate. My dad grounded me. He told me I was basically disowning him. My mom wouldn’t talk to me for months. When I told them I believed that God intended sexual intimacy only for one man and one woman, that created more trauma.

But I always told them that God loved them, not based on their sexuality but because of what his Son accomplished on the cross. I had to continually show them examples of people, including my friends, who were not like the Christians they had known before.

How has reconciling with your parents influenced your ministry?

After I first brought my mom to one of my former churches, two elders basically said, “If you want to keep preaching here, don’t ever bring someone like your mother again.”

That was my last Sunday there. I prayed, “Lord, if you give me the chance to lead a church, I want it to be a place for people struggling with sexual identity, for addicts or gangbangers, for people who are bankrupt, for people having affairs.”

At my current church, we absolutely believe God has expectations for sexuality. But I am not called to change anyone’s sexual orientation. My goal is to preach the gospel and to share Jesus. The LGBT people who attend know about our traditional views. That doesn’t stop us from loving and embracing them.

What can evangelicals learn from the LGBT community?

We can learn that homosexual identity goes much deeper than sexual habits. Before her partner died, my mom told me they had stopped being sexually active years ago. But she still called herself a lesbian. When gay people are invited to give up that lifestyle, they think, “You want me to give up my friends, my community, my movement, my acceptance? No, thank you”—especially when the church hasn’t offered them an alternative community.

We can also learn a lot about loving other people. Are there militant activists like my mom? Sure. There are extremists in just about every community. But for the most part, they are some of the most loving and accepting people I know. They’re not looking for the next battle to fight. They just want to live their lives.

At its best, the LGBT movement has many qualities we’d associate with the church. There’s a love for people. There’s a strong sense of justice and a commitment to a shared cause. They’re intentional about sharing their views and unashamed to be recognized for what they believe.

What do you find most frustrating about the divide between evangelicals and the LGBT community?

I see many churches digging in their heels instead of wrestling with issues of grace and truth. For example, how would you react if two men were holding hands in church? Could a lesbian couple attend a parenting class? Could they attend your small group or Bible study? What if a lesbian wants to be baptized, or an openly gay man wants to go on a men’s retreat? These questions will come up eventually.