Monday, July 31, 2017

Men and Friendship

The Book of Friendship
The Bible has a lot to say about friendship. We could even argue that friendship is one of the Bible’s major themes—the Bible is the Book of Friendship! 

God existed from all eternity in the friendship of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, enjoying a perfect, unbroken relationship with one another. God created human beings to enter into that existing friendship, to enjoy what God already enjoyed in himself. Creator invited creature to participate in something beyond wonderful. Tragically, we rebelled against God and, through our betrayal, ruptured that friendship. We walked away and were content to exist on our own, severed from God.

But God is a good friend—the kind who initiates reconciliation even though he is the innocent party. To do this, he sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to be a friend to sinners, to defeat the sin that separated them and draw them back into relationship with the Father. And now, by putting our faith in Jesus Christ, we are restored to what we once enjoyed. Though we cannot now see God face to face, we wait with eager anticipation for the day Christ returns and restores to us all of the intimacy we once experienced. We will be forever with God, forever his friends.

The friendship we experience with God provides the model for the friendships we can and should experience with other human beings. The intimacy God calls us to enjoy with others is not based merely on common interests or shared experiences. It looks beyond gender and color or any other easy division. It is a truly spiritual friendship in which we are bound together by God, in God, and for God. Because it is a spiritual friendship, it will exist beyond this earth and beyond the grave. It will endure forever.


The Man of Friendship

Friendship is a great gift of God. Spiritual friendship, friendship shared in Christ, is an even greater gift. Spiritual friendship with other godly men is one of life’s greatest privileges and highest joys. Do you have a close friend? Are you a close friend to another man?


You need friends for the sake of your well-being. In recent years biblical commentators have looked with suspicion on the relationship of David and Jonathan. Some have read David’s lament upon Jonathan’s death and imagined them as a secretly gay couple: “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26). But David is not weeping for a lover who shared his bed, but a friend who shared his life. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (17:17). Through the turmoil of constant betrayal, multiple marriages, and running for his life, David could always count on his friend Jonathan. Theirs was the truest and deepest kind of friendship that endured every kind of adversity. Who loves you at all times and is at your side during hardships?


You also need spiritual friendships for the sake of your soul. You are a sinful person who can hold tight to your depravity. You are a weak-eyed person who often cannot see yourself as you are. You are a selfish person who sometimes struggles to live for anyone or anything apart from yourself. You need friends who will help you, serve you, strengthen you, equip you. You need friends to temper your weakness, to challenge your sinfulness, to comfort your sorrows, to speak truth into your tragedies. “Iron sharpens iron,” says Solomon, “and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Who sharpens you? Who is sharpened by you?


Truly, friendships are a great gift from a great God. Theologian Hugh Black says, “Friends should be chosen by a higher principle of selection than any worldly one. They should be chosen for character, for goodness, for truth and trustworthiness, because they have sympathy with us in our best thoughts and holiest aspirations, because they have community of mind in the things of the soul. All other connections are fleeting and imperfect.”


Do It Now!

Having looked at the beauty and necessity of friendships, let’s consider some ways to practically apply this in our lives.


Examine your friendships
. Not all friendships are helpful because not all friendships are truly spiritual. Wise old Solomon commends good friends and warns against foolish friends when he says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). This does not mean that we cannot enjoy friendships with non-Christians. But many Christian men spend all of their time with those who don’t know Christ and rob their own soul of the benefits of a spiritual friendship. Examine your friendships to ensure you have friends who are wise and that you are not spending inordinate amounts of time with fools. While you may be able to influence them for good, it is just as likely they will influence you for evil.

Pray for friendships
. Ask God to grant you friendships. This is a good and noble request to make of the God who is your friend.

Find a friend
. The main factor that keeps us from friendship is our pride. We are ashamed to initiate friendships, afraid to look desperate or pathetic as we ask another man for some of his time. Don’t be dumb. Don’t deny yourself something so good simply because you are too proud to seek it. Many men are just like you—desperate for a friend, yet too proud to ask. Man up and go find a friend.

Be a good friend
. A friendship, like any other relationship, requires effort—effort that is usually measured in time. Friendships thrive where they are given sufficient time and they wither where they are not. Consider opportunities for face-to-face time (sitting together over coffee or another beverage) and side-by-side time (working together on a project or enjoying a hobby or activity together). Your relationship will grow in different ways in each context.

Run to Win

Of all the gifts God gives, few are more precious than friendship, an enduring, sacrificial commitment to another person. Yet of all the gifts God gives to men, few are more likely to be overlooked than this one. Still, the Bible assures us: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Find that man in someone else, and be that man to him. If you are going to run to win, you need to foster your friendships.



by Tim Challies, pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, popular blogger and co-founder of Cruciform Press.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who Are You ? The Identity Gift

“Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Phil. 3:9

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His identity and righteousness have been reckoned to us when received by faith. What did Jesus do on the cross? He emptied Himself of all identity. Isn’t that what Philippians says? And as the Augsburg Confession puts it, “Christ’s merits are given to us so that we might be reckoned righteous by our trust in the merits of Christ, when we believe in Him, as though we had merits of our own.” 

In other words, identity is a gift. It’s not to be earned; it is bestowed. It is given by God, not the court of public opinion, not even the court of condemnation inside our own minds. 


In the gospel we don’t get instructions about how to create a better version of ourselves. We get a new identity, a gift. It’s a matter of being, not doing. It’s a matter of giving up on the idea of who you think you need to be and finding out that what remains is the real you, loved and accepted by God on account of Christ. 

So Christianity explodes the idea of ever reaching peace through personal achievement. You will never be cool enough, good-looking enough, wealthy enough. Christianity reestablishes the proper basis for self-understanding. W. H. Auden, the great English poet, wrote, “The blessed will not care what angle they are regarded from, having nothing to hide.”  Christ brings the end of double lives, the end of hiding. 

If the fruit of the law is narcissism, loneliness, and anxiety, the fruit of the gospel is honesty, and honesty works itself out in repentance and confession. Because we are forgiven, we are free to finally talk about what’s really going on in our lives, independent of the judgments that might provoke. In repentance, God meets us in our weakness, not in our strength.

Thought to Remember for Today
God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He nailed our narcissistic instincts to a cross. And rising again, He established a new identity for each of us. The starting point is grace—not works, not public opinion. And this is a life of freedom, where we can own up to our shortcomings, independent of judgments.


by David Zahl from Grace Untamed: A 60-Day Devotional

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Miracle of Dunkirk" Movie Opens 7. 21.17

The story of the evacuation from Dunkirk during World War 2 is one of the most riveting true stories that you will ever hear. It now is comingto the big screen July 21 - [Watch Trailer] It is a story of heroes, common and uncommon. It is a story of national valor and courage, and for that reason the story is beloved and cherished. What happened at this little fishing village in the north of France in 1940?... It was one of the most remarkable escapes in history prompting many churches in England to sing Psalm 124:

"...if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the fowler's snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth."

The Miracle of Dunkirk is a reason why Americans speak English today rather thank German. It enabled the Allies to fight another day. And fight they did. When the Allies returned to the northern beaches of France on June 6, 1944, the tide was about to turn. Victory in Europe arrived ten months later.

Dunkirk opens in theaters July 21 - WATCH TRAILER  

America's Prayer Foundation

First Prayer at Continental Congress by Rev. Jacob Duche'
September 7, 1774
As we celebrate this Fourth of July, let us remember America was laid on a foundation of prayer. The Continental Congress, which gave us the Declaration of Independence in 1776, convened for the first time on September 7, 1774. The first legislative action taken was a motion to open this first session in prayer led by Rev. Jacob Duche'. He opened his Bible and read Psalm 35, which providentially opens with:

Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler and rise for my help. Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers. Say to my soul, 'I am your salvation.' Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life. Let them be turned back and disappointed who devise evil against me."


John Adams wrote that the passage electrified the Founders. "I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning." Adams further noted that, quite unexpectedly, Rev. Duche' launched into a spontaneous and unscripted prayer that began"Be Thou present, O God of Wisdom, and direct the counsel of this Honorable Assembly; enable them to settle all things on the best and surest foundation; that the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that Order, Harmony, and Peace may be effectually restored, and that Truth and Justice, Religion and Piety, prevail and flourish among the people."

Duche' went on to ask God to preserve the delegates' health and vigor of mind, and to grant them "temporal Blessings" and "everlasting Glory in the world to come. He closed with,


"All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Saviour, Amen." Adams writes that Duche's prayer "filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess, I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced." 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Loving the People You Love to Hate

In the midst of my umpteenth re-reading of C. S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity, I came across the passage excerpted below and found it holding new resonance. Apply what Lewis is explicating below to any of the following:

  • Gossip
  • Church conflict
  • Relational jealousy
  • Sharing of news stories that confirms our suspicions about people on the other end of the political or cultural spectrum
  • The language that is used in clickbait links, soundbite videos, mocking memes, and exposé blog posts. We don’t say someone is “critiqued” or their ideas “debunked;” we say they were “destroyed,” “owned,” and so on. We use the language of humiliation or violence.
Here’s how you know if you hate something someone has done or if you actually hate that person, according to Lewis:

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything--God and our friends and ourselves included--as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

How about you? Is your hatred fed by confirmation bias? Do you dismiss correction of your critique because the corrections don’t fit your narrative?

Do you love to hate somebody? Do you hope for their failure and inwardly delight when it comes? Do you have the slightest inkling that your desire for justice has bled into desire for vengeance?

And if so: do you find any of that commensurate with loving your neighbor?

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
-- 1 Corinthians 13:7

By Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can
.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Unfair fight: Choking on Transgender Complications

Welfare reform partially succeeded in the 1990s when legislators stopped haranguing about “welfare queens” gaming the system and started showing how governmental payments harmed the poor. We need a similar change in the transgenderism debate. Bathroom criminals are a problem, but we should emphasize a larger set of potential victims: transgender humans themselves, and women athletes who will suffer unintended consequences.

While ideologues theorize, superficial sex changes usually don’t solve deeper problems. Trendy magazines celebrate trans kids, but those temporary mascots have to live with their decisions for decades—and studies show the frequency of regret. Now, let’s think through another issue that hasn’t gotten much attention outside some sports pages: A small percentage of women are hyperandrogenic, which means they have testosterone levels like men’s.

Last year hyperandrogenic athletes Caster Semenya of South Africa, who won the Olympic women’s 800-meter gold medal, and Dutee Chand, India’s star female runner, made headlines. Women with lots of testosterone are, like men, stronger and faster than similarly athletic women without that advantage. Providence Portland Medical Center expert Joanna Harper says the average difference between men’s and women’s world records is 12 percent, and the best marathon time ever for a woman would put her just outside the top 5,000 men’s times.

We should emphasize a larger set of potential victims: transgender humans themselves, and women athletes who will suffer unintended consequences.

Harper, born male and now transgender, told The Science of Sport that as many as five hyperandrogenic athletes may have made the eight-person final in the Olympic race that Semenya won. Harper favors protecting “female athletes from those athletes who undergo male-type puberty. … Billions of potential female athletes deserve the right to compete with some semblance of a level playing field. … Requiring all women to compete within a given testosterone range is the best way we currently have to create such a playing field.”

Harper also spoke of a condition, 5-alpha reductase deficiency (5-ARD), that is rare worldwide except in isolated, inbred pockets. Given the globalization of sport, Harper’s dystopian concern is that if high-testosterone women continue to compete against other women, “those interested in developing the next generation of women’s sports stars will look to these areas to find girls with 5-ARD, and aid in their athletic progress. This would be an extremely bad scenario for the rest of the women in the world who care about sporting success.”

Harper admits that discriminating against very-high-testosterone women is hard and in one sense unfair—they did not do anything to gain such an advantage—but sees no other way to maintain fair competition for the other 99 or so percent of women. And now we come to a dystopian situation: What about young men who choose the transgender route and then compete with young women not in fun local events (like coed softball) but on big stages?

This is not hypothetical. Weightlifter Gavin Hubbard, former head of Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand, is now Laurel Hubbard, winner last month of a major women’s weightlifting competition. Some women lifters said Hubbard should not be allowed in their event, but their pleas did not avail within the current trans trend. In Alaska last year, biologically male Nattaphon Wangyot finished third in the 200-meter dash of that state’s high-school female track and field championship. The College Fix website captured the current mood: It reported the justified concern of Saskia Harrison, a female runner who just missed the cut, under a “Don’t question it, bigots” headline.

What to do? Genesis says, “God created man in his own image … male and female he created them.” We are sexually binary, but ever since one day in Eden mutations happen and life sometimes doesn’t seem fair. We should protect the few in a way that does not harm the many.

We cannot successfully do that in knee-jerk ways. The Texas supervisory board for high-school athletics arrived at what it thought was a simple, conservative solution: Athletes compete in their birth gender. But in February, biologically female Mack Beggs won the girls wrestling state title after a 58-0 season. Beggs, who has declared herself a boy, has been taking testosterone for two years. Some female wrestlers forfeited their matches with Beggs out of safety concerns. Now the policy needs amending.

by Marvin Olasky is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion.

3 Ways the Gospel Encourages Weary Men


Strength for the Weary
The gospel breathes life into a man’s weary spirit primarily in three ways:
  1. It provides freedom from the past
  2. It provides power for the present
  3. It provides hope for the future

1. Freedom from the Past
I think every man carries around some sort of wound, baggage, things that they’ve done, mistakes that they’ve made, sins that they’ve committed. Even if they’ve repented of these things, sometimes they don’t feel forgiven or they feel like they can’t escape from under that shadow. 

The gospel comes in and says that what you were does not define you. You are what God says you are in Christ. Understanding the rich truth of justification gives us great freedom from the past. 

2. Power for the Present
In the gospel comes the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. We really do have the Spirit working according to the Father’s will to make us more like Christ . We do have the power to obey. 
But when we fall short—as we often do—we know that we have the grace to forgive us so that we’re not defined by our worst deeds. We really do have the Spirit’s empowering presence for our present work and effort. 

3. Hope for the Future
Most men worry about providing for their families and making sure the bottom doesn’t fall out from underneath them. The harsh truth of living in a broken and sinful world is that we have no guarantee of security; Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

But we do have the guarantee that our hope is secure in the gospel. The hope that we have in Christ is not the same hope that we often refer to in everyday language (e.g., “I hope something good will happen.). Our hope in Christ is a sure hope—a secure hope.

Every man can wake up in the morning with fresh mercies and with the understanding that whatever happens to his bank account or with his family or whatever else, he is united to Christ and therefore he is as secure as Christ himself is.


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.