Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Man's 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’ 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).

by David Powlinson from his article in the ESV Men's Devotional Bible (WACMM's 2016 Book of the Year)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Performing a “Time Audit” of Your Life

One of the benefits of a new year is stopping to take stock of our lives—to assess whether we’re actually spending our time doing what matters most. We’ll never live the life God intends for us unless we intend to, and intending starts with an honest look at how we’ve created our schedules.
Our Spiritual Formations team has created a great tool to help us “audit” our most precious resource—our time. Check it out:
Five Life Resources:
  1. Spiritual – Every person’s heart yearns for something. Additionally, Jesus said that man was not meant to live on bread alone. Think of your soul as something with an appetite – and we are what we eat. Every human shares the same problem in that we love and trust the wrong things. When we love and trust things more than God, we begin to direct our lives toward those things in ways that do not bring glory to God.
  2. Relationships – God made people to live in community with others. The only aspect of creation that God did not deem good was that Adam was alone without Eve. More importantly than the basic need for others, Christ’s death created a new community that is essential for engaging in the pilgrimage from grace to glory: the local church.
  3. Physical & Emotional Energy – Our bodies have minds and muscles. Each of which need, at times, to be strengthened, fed, healed and rested. We are prone to worship or abuse these resources just like any other.
  4. Finances – Possessions are a resource that will either be stewarded by us or will come to control us. We are prone to love things more than God who gives them; this is idolatry. When we see God as the one who owns everything and ourselves as the steward, they become a means to bless others and glorify God.
  5. Time – Time is the resource that governs all the others. Your time is your life. As your time goes, so goes your life. We will invest or waste our time just like any other resource. Our lives are “a vapor” and the time we have is a resource and a gift from God to be stewarded just like the others. 
The Summit Margin Audit
1) List the 3-5 resources you view as most valuable in your life. What depletes them most? What “recharges” them?

2) Time Audit. We have 168 hours every week. This tool is meant to give you a snapshot of how you are spending yours and how you wish you were spending yours.

Complete columns #1 & #2 and be ready to reference it for subsequent questions.

 3) Prioritize. Think through your Time Audit and major commitments over the last year, and then complete column #3.  What are your current priorities based on your time and resource commitments?
4) Simplify. We can create margin by combining commitments to intersect and therefore reserve resources. What are some ways that you can cause intersection between different activities? How can your small group do this together?

Begin completing column #4.

5) Stop. Based on what you have discovered so far, what are some commitments or resource drains that you need to bring to a close in the near future.

6) Start. What is something you need to start that will allow you to steward and prioritize your resources biblically in order to glorify God.

7) Build habits and rhythms. Reflect on your activities, the time they take, the resources they use and give, and the changes that may need to be made.

by J.D. Greear, Pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, a position he has held since January 2002.

The Hard, Adrenaline-Soaked Truth About 'Toxic Masculinity'

Retired Marine Corps general James Mattis testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination to be the next secretary of defense on January 12, 2017. As Mattis, a warrior and gentleman scholar, steps into the spotlight a number of colleges are referring to personas like his as "toxic" for our youth. Who is right?

Have you felt the touch of “toxic masculinity” lately? Maybe you just didn’t realize when its steely grip grabbed you by the back of the neck, say some academics at Duke and more.

Wait a second, you say, what is toxic masculinity? Quite right, we need a definition. This is a relatively new and controversial academic idea. Urban Dictionary took a
swing at it and came up with this: 

n.) A false idea that men are expected to be as manly as possible even though they're definitely not regularly expected to drink gallon sized beers in under three seconds, grow out gravely beards by mere thought alone, kill sharks with their bare hands….

The Good Men Project blog
does a better job: “Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression.”

So right, it’s a negative thing that must be repressed, as if manliness is a psychological disorder that only leads to aggression and violence, say these academics.

Basically, they say telling young men to “man up” or “grow a pair” is making young men do violent things. They say old-school patriarchal elements of society are pushing them to prove themselves to their peers in destructive ways. Man’s caveman traits, they argue, run toxic with adrenaline unless our young men can swear off being men.

Never mind that these academics are ignoring thousands of years of things like Christian virtues, Confucian principles, knightly conduct and gentlemanly codes developed and used to channel boys’ natural aggression in positive ways as mentors show them how to be stand-up men living a chivalric code. All that is passé.

Actually, it’s worse than passé. That portion of human history is too loaded with things these academics want to wipe away—and, to some extent, they already have diminished, which is the actual reason colleges are dealing with boys who never learned to be gentleman.

Now, instead of taking an honest look at what makes men, some colleges have opted to condemn manliness.

CampusReform.org is
reporting that “Oregon State University invited students to attend a ‘healthy masculinities conference’ where they will ‘engage in collective imagining to construct new futures for masculinities, unrestricted by power, privilege, and oppression.’”

Advertisements for Oregon State’s “masculinities conference” ask: “Join us in a collective examination of the histories and legacies that shape present day masculinities. Through a day of presentations, panels, workshops, and artistic expression, learn how to engage systems of power.”

Meanwhile, Ithaca College is holding a workshop called “MLK Week: Educational Workshop - From the Batman to J. Cole: Masculinity and Violence.” Students are going to study “hegemonic masculinity and its role as the wheel that rotates a cycle of violence.” This workshop’s goal it to help “willing individuals to begin to recognize, acknowledge, own, and disrupt the toxicity of manhood in order to end violence.”

Duke University even has a “
Men’s Project” sponsored by the university’s Women’s Center. It says it will “examine the ways we present—or don’t present—our masculinities, so we can better understand how masculinity exists on our campus—often in toxic ways—and begin the work of unlearning violence.” (Okay, don’t even let yourself imagine the fallout that would occur if a Duke’s Men’s Center sponsored a “Women’s Project” in order to help women understand and solve their issues. First of all, come on, a Men’s Center at Duke! Secondly, well, come on.)

Certainly, sexual assault and worse are a problem on college campuses, but these academics are trying to cure a problem with more of what is causing a societal problem. They are trying to further emasculate young men instead of, you know, teaching them to be gentleman.

If teaching young men how to be gentleman sounds stodgy to someone, then point out to them that becoming a gentleman is about finding real, heart-thumping ways to test yourself that will help you become your best self. There is an ancient formula behind this process used by every society and institution we all agree made or makes people of character. In my book
This Will Make a Man of You I show how the same method, a process now being misunderstood and destroyed, has always been used to help men (and now an increasing number of women) prove themselves in positive ways as they thereby become upstanding members of society.

Even the mad streets of Pamplona, Spain, during an encierro (the running of the bulls) does this every July by helping youth test themselves in something real. Running with the bulls, like any real rite of passage, requires you to face a physical test, a dangerous trial. You need to follow certain rules to make it through. The rules make your chances of surviving uninjured higher, but they also make it safer for everyone. For example, if you break the rules by grabbing a bull’s tail and so make the bull stop and turn around in the street then that bull will begin to gore people. Not doing this—and many other things—shows respect for the bull, for yourself and for those in the street with you. That understood respect is the beginning of a real gentlemanly code of honor.

This is hard for people who avoid reality to comprehend. It is about proving yourself in some real thing, a thing that will require you to struggle and live up to something greater than yourself—places like karate dojos, boot camp and, yes, volunteering at a soup kitchen can do this if done with your mind open. Those are growing experiences.

A group of academics telling boys not to be men will only make the problems associated with young men who haven’t learned to be gentleman worse.

by Frank Miniter, Forbes Magazine contributor

Monday, January 2, 2017

Turning Your Gaze Away From Yourself

The following words written some 66 years ago by the last of the great Princeton theologians J. Gresham Machen couldn't be more relevant to our moral therapeutic culture and gospel-light churches (and to the men to whom we minister:
Turning Your Gaze Away From Yourself

If you want health for your souls, and if you want to be the instruments of bringing health to others, do not turn your gaze forever within, as though you could find Christ there. Nay, turn your gaze away from your own miserable experiences, away from your own sin, to the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Only when we turn away from ourselves to that uplifted Savior shall we have healing for our deadly hurt.

It is the same old story, my friends—the same old story of the natural man. Men are trying today, as they have always been trying, to save themselves—to save themselves by their own act of surrender, by the excellence of their own faith, by mystic experiences of their own lives. But it is all in vain. Not that way is peace with God to be obtained. It is to be obtained only in the old, old way—by attention to something that was done once for all long ago, and by acceptance of the living Savior who there, once for all, brought redemption for our sin. Oh, that men would turn for salvation from their own experience to the Cross of Christ; oh, that they would turn from the phenomena of religion to the living God!

That that may be done, there is but one way. It is not found in a study of the psychology of religion; it is not found in “religious education”; it is not found in an analysis of one's own spiritual status. Oh, no. It is found only in the blessed written Word. There are the words of life. There God speaks. Let us attend to His voice. Let us above all things know the Word. Let us study it with all our minds; let us cherish it with all our hearts. Then let us try, very humbly, to bring it to the unsaved. Let us pray that God may honor not the messengers but the message, that despite our unworthiness He may make His Word upon our unworthy lips to be a message of life.

(J. Graham Machen, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship,”
What Is Christianity? [Eerdmans, 1951])

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Best Way to Begin a New Year

I look forward to the day we own our house free and clear. We have been making payments on the mortgage since the day we moved in, but the end is finally in sight and four or five years from now we should be done at last. (An advantage of buying a small house and staying in it!) The moment the bank withdraws the final payment, we’ll be free and clear: free from further financial obligations and clear of all liens or other encumbrances. It will be ours all the way. We trust this will put us in a good position to transition into the second half of life—the half when we need to devote attention to our children’s education, marriages, and independence. And, of course, the time when we may finally be able to upgrade that worn parquet flooring that was installed before we were even born.

A new year is coming, and the best way to begin a new year is to know that you are free and clear. This morning I was reflecting on the great words of Isaiah 43:25, where God says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Here is a great promise about the extent of God’s forgiveness. God blots out our transgressions so he can forget our sins. He deliberately erases from his accounts every record of what we have done wrong. As the records disappear, so too does his memory of the misdeeds. Ray Ortlund points out that “God locates his very identity in blotting out our sins and remembering them no more” and then, by way of illustration, works up a helpful little scenario:

Satan, the accuser, comes before God and says, “Look at that Christian down there. Why do you still love him? Don’t you remember what he did to you last week, and again on Tuesday, and then again yesterday?” And God says, if you’ll allow me to put it this way, “No, I don’t remember. Gabriel, where does that believer stand with us? Check the database.” Gabriel logs on, but the only information that comes up on the screen is the righteousness of Christ freely credited to that sinner, because that’s how God honors himself as God. “I blot out your transgressions, I splice your bad plays out of my game film, for my own sake.” So God says back to Satan, “I’m not saying your facts are wrong, but you’re not telling the whole story about that Christian. What matters most to me, for my own sake, is not that person’s record but Christ’s record for him.” That is grace. That is God.

That is God, indeed. And why does God do this? He does this for his own sake. In fact, he must do this for his own sake, for there is no other reason to do such a noble deed. He cannot do it for our sake, for we have no right to such grace, we have no righteousness to plead. No, it must be done for God’s sake and God’s glory. God loves to display his glory before us, his people, so we can direct our praise, our adoration, to him.

If you have turned to Christ in repentance and faith, you are free and clear. You are free of all the burden of the sins you’ve committed, clear of all record of wrongdoing. You are now free to live for God’s glory, clear from the need to earn your own righteousness. There is no better way to begin a new year than with the knowledge of your freedom and the desire to live for the glory of the one who has extended such grace. Christian, you are free and clear.

Tim Challies serves as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and is a co-founder of Cruciform Press.