Thursday, August 29, 2013

Self-Mastery



When Paul wrote Timothy about the qualifications for church leaders, he included self-mastery as an important requirement (1 Tim 3:2). Though David had his shortfalls, he demonstrated self-restraint on one occasion. David’s son, Absalom, led a rebellion against his father’s kingdom. David had to flee Jerusalem. As David and his company of loyal followers traveled, they encountered a descendant of Saul named Shimei. Shimei took advantage of this opportunity to let David know how he really felt about him, “He pelted David and all the king's officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David's right and left,” and he cursed David, "Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel!”(2 Samuel 16:5-6).

One word from David and his warrior soldiers would have eliminated the annoyance for good. David refrained his soldiers from killing the man, and he refrained himself from abusing his authority. David’s men and the people watched how David controlled himself that day and behaved as Solomon said, “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).

C.S. Lewis so capably illustrates what self-mastery is in his book The Great Divorce. He writes about a young man who is badgered by a red lizard that just sits on his shoulder and talks to him. This lizard is antagonistic, and he often mocks the young man. The lizard represents the inner struggle that we all have with our sinful natures.

An angel appears and proposes to liberate the young man of the irritating lizard. The young man is delighted at the offer until it slowly dawns on him that this will not be painless. The angel will use fire to kill the lizard. The young man is fearful of what the fire will do to him, so he begins to counter-offer the angel. “Maybe it won’t be necessary to kill the lizard completely; maybe we can just wound him. Maybe another time would be better—a later date? The angel says, “In this moment are all moments. Either you want the red lizard to live or you do not.”

As soon as the lizard sees the hesitancy of the young man, he begins to reason with him. “Be careful. He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will. Then you’ll be without me forever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’ll only be a sort of a ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless, abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it’s not natural for us. I know there are no real pleasures, only dreams, but aren’t they better than nothing? I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams, all sweet and fresh and almost innocent.”[1]

That young man is any of us, and that conversation with the red lizard is a snap shot of our conversations with our own sinful natures. It’s how we reason and rationalize, “Just this time and then I’ll put a stop to this.  It’s not that bad really. God will forgive me.” These are ways we compromise with the lizard that we know too well.

Bryan Chapell writes:

The angel in C. S. Lewis’s story does grasp the lizard and with fiery hands begins to choke it so that it finally dies and falls to the ground. But when it hits the ground, it becomes a stallion, and the young man gets on it and rides. What had been the ruler is now ruled. What had been his master, he now masters. What had ridden him, he now rides. It’s C. S. Lewis’s great expression that when we actually kill the sin, the things that were so hard actually become good and freeing and wonderful to us. Secular surveys of the sexuality in our culture say that those with monogamous, faithful marriages claim greater sexual fulfillment than those who are promiscuous. How can that be? Because God is saying that to honor him is to actually find the greatest fulfillment, the greatest riches that we were made to find.[2]




[1] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, Harper One, New York, 1973, pp. 97-115.
[2] Bryan Chapell, Killing the Red Lizard, Preaching Today, Issue 264, July 05.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Men and Women



We are living in a world that tells us there is no difference between the sexes. This message is communicated in many different ways by varied means. Today in schools and colleges young people are told that girls and boys act differently not because they are actually different, but because we train them to act differently. Little boys and girls are not different except for the physical differences, but we make them different. Boys play with trucks, and little girls play with dolls, not intuitively, but because we model that kind of behavior. However, the scriptures teach that God made males and females distinct from each other for the very purpose of complementing each other. The Bible teaches us to celebrate the masculinity of men and femininity in women. God’s word says there is a divine order to the way men and women are supposed to relate to each other.

Many boys and girls are growing up without a clear definition of what it means to be a man or woman. Masculinity is portrayed to boys as a muscular physique or the tough guy image that bullies anybody in his way. Often these same men are often wimps on the inside. Girls are sent the message that femininity is sensual, and the more you show off your body, the more feminine you are. Given the fact that many children are growing up in homes where fathers and mothers don’t model what it means to be a godly man or woman, many children are buying into the world’s message. From a biblical viewpoint, today’s contemporary message is a lie.

What does it mean to be masculine? Isaiah the prophet described what it means to be a man in this classic statement, “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17). This is not a boastful man but a strong man who quietly and confidently trusts God as he moves toward his purpose in life. At the same time, he is not so wrapped up in himself but has a sensitive spirit to others. He cares about his wife and children and makes himself accessible to them and models manly behavior.

The biblical masculinity in fathers and husbands that I am writing about is mocked today. The image portrayed by Hollywood is that fathers and husbands are dufuses and idiots.  Kids are growing up in families where the father does not lead the home. They are observing the man abdicate and abandon his responsibilities. They are growing into adulthood without ever seeing a good model of masculinity.

A woman’s femininity is about her capacity to enjoy and build relationships. Peter described this gift that women have as “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight” (1 Peter 3:3).

Young people are being fed a distorted message of what it means to be a man or a woman. Women are told you don’t need marriage because you don’t need to be under the thumb of some man. You can have kids if you must without marriage. Celebrities model this message. You can have kids, have a boyfriend without committing yourself to anyone and be totally happy. Women are told you can do any job that men can do, including combat in war. In all of this—women are being convinced that being just a mother, a wife, a homemaker is a second class occupation. Why would you do that when you can be yourself?

The feminist message is robbing women of the gift of enjoying their femininity and enjoying a family. Feminism robs women of placing family and marriage at the center of their lives, as the most meaningful part of their existence. Instead, it shames women into believing that their career should be the most important thing in their lives. Unfortunately, many women realize only too late that the longing for a family is a God-given desire.


Larry Crab writes about the biblical understanding of men and women in marriage:

Husbands and wives both have authority in marriage. Their authority is equal in responsibility; that is, it is not like a captain's authority over a sergeant or a sergeant's authority over a private. Husbands and wives have the authority to serve one another in wisdom and love. Married partners are authorized by God to give them­selves to their mates. This is their authority.

However, because the sexes are distinct in what they were fundamentally designed to give and in what brings them the greatest joy in relationship, the expression of their authority should reflect those distinctions. At the deepest level, a man serves a woman differently than a woman serves a man. Headship, the expression of a man's authority to serve, is characterized by rich involvement and by leadership that includes making decisions to resolve an impasse. Submission, the expression of a woman's authority to serve, is characterized by invitation and supportiveness.[1]






[1] Larry Crab, Men & Women, Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1991, p. 174.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Eternity in Our Hearts



One of the most fascinating statements Solomon ever made in his book of Ecclesiastes is this one, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11). I believe this is true, and besides the biblical statement, there is evidence in human history to validate the claim.

When I was about seventeen, I read a book entitled Peace Child. In 1962 Don Richardson and his wife, Carol, with their tiny son Stephen arrived in New Guinea to bring the gospel to a cannibal tribe called the Sawi. Richardson made little progress in his attempt to introduce the gospel to these people. In fact, when they heard the gospel story, they admired Judas the betrayer more than Jesus. The reason being is because in their culture the man who could betray his enemy was held in high esteem. Don and Carol threatened to leave if the Sawi did not stop fighting their enemies. The Richardsons watched in total surprise as the two warring tribes reconciled through a “peace child.” The chief's own son would be offered to the other tribe as a “peace child.” It was then that Richardson saw this ritual as a parable of the gospel, in which the Chief of all chiefs made peace with the lost tribe of humanity by offering up his only Son. Many of the Sawi eventually came to know Jesus, and the gospel has spread throughout the region. The whole story of the Sawi and their neighboring tribes is evidence that God has put eternity in our hearts.

Richardson, in another book entitled Eternity in Their Hearts, demonstrates that people from every culture have a deep longing for God. It doesn’t matter whether they were part of an ancient tribe from long ago or part of an urban population of the 21st century, people long to know what’s next.

Richardson writes that God has revealed himself in creation and in oral stories that have been passed down. The Inca king rejected the sun god Inti because he believed there was a greater God who dwells in uncreated light. The Karen people of Burma had legends of a lost book that one day the Supreme God Y'wa would come to set them free from oppression. The people of Borneo had a tribal ritual to make atonement for sin. Every year the Dyaks put their sins on a small boat and sent it down the river with their sins. [1]

These stories are only a sampling of the fact that God has put eternity in our hearts. We were born with a longing in our hearts to know God, and that longing is for another world—one far different than this one plagued with sickness, injustice and made hopeless by our sins.

C.S. Lewis often wrote about eternity, and he could, I think, write in such eloquent ways, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing."[2]


[1] Don Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts, Ventura, CA: 1981.
[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York, NY: Macmillan, 1952, p. 120.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

“Fighting the Good Fight”



The Apostle Paul urged Timothy to “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18). The two essential components needed to stay in that fight, according to Paul, were holding on to your faith and maintaining a good conscience. The faith Paul was referring to was the biblical doctrines of Scripture. These are foundational to what we believe, and what we believe is foundational to how we live. Paul said we also need a clear conscience. Although not considered very important in our postmodern society, the conscience is a God-given mechanism for helping us stay in the fight. If our conscience is informed from Scripture and we listen to the Holy Spirit and obey his voice, our conscience will help lead us on the right road.

Another way Paul sees this fight is as a race. He wrote to the Philippians that he was “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).

The metaphor that Paul gives us is one of a runner who runs in such a way that he pays no attention to what is behind but looks to what is ahead. How easy it is to look back at our failures, our hurts and our disappointments. Often we find ourselves running against opponents in this race. Whenever we take our eyes off the prize, which is Christ, we will be hindered.

This very thing happened in 1954 when two of the fastest runners in the world met in Vancouver, Canada to run the mile. Roger Bannister of England had broken the barrier by running a mile in under four minutes. Another runner in Australia named John Landry had done the same thing. Now the two of them met for the first time to compete. The race was tight with Landry leading the race, but suddenly, in the final turn toward the finish line, Landry turned his head slightly to locate Bannister. In that moment Bannister passed him and won the race by a millisecond. This is precisely what Paul is talking about. He wants Timothy and us to keep our eyes on the prize and not look back.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the kind of man who kept his eye on the prize and never looked back. Refusing to leave Nazi Germany when he had the opportunity, he chose to stay and fight. He preached and taught his seminary students and founded the Confessing Church. Eventually he became a double agent working for the demise of Nazism, all the while fighting the good fight of the faith. He worked saving as many lives as possible and fighting for the truth. Ultimately, on April 9, 1945, just hours before the Allies liberated the camp where he was held, he gave his life in this fight.

Here is an excerpt from a sermon Bonhoeffer preached in England on the subject of death. It portrays his spirit of courage and love of God.

No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence. Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up—that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? . . . Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace. How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world? Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.[1]

The camp doctor at Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp was H. Fischer-H├╝llstrung. Several years later he wrote of watching Bonhoeffer die:

On the morning of that day between five and six o’clock the prisoners, among them Admiral Canaris, General Oster, General Thomas and Reichgerichtsrat Sack were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of the court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed
the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.[2]




[1] Metaxas, Eric (2010-04-20). Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Kindle Locations 10445-10470). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
[2] Metaxas, Eric (2010-04-20). Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Kindle Locations 10445-10470). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.