High Altitude Assessment of 2007

The last couple years I’ve made resolutions, posted them publicly, then reviewed my progress publicly as well. This is good accountability especially since there are some significant consequences of breaking resolutions even though it’s so easy to do.

We are always to be progressing in our devotion to Christ and good resolutions are made with that in mind. Spiritual transformation and progress is essential–not optional–for Christ followers. Therefore it is not only beneficial to consider our failures, weaknesses, and sin and address them, it is needful! And it is needful not only on a yearly basis, but on a weekly basis, a daily basis, and even an hourly or moment-by-moment basis. Examining our lives once a year is like examining our course from 30,000 feet–we get a good view but we’re too far away to change much. Of course from the five foot view we can deal with a lot of things but we can’t always recognize past patterns and potential pitfalls.

So a multi-prong, near and far examination is good, and the following is my bird’s eye, end of year assessment. I made five resolutions for 2007; here’s how I did.

  • Less fiddling

My first resolution was also my most successful. My fingers have done minimal tweaking on my blog template or the one28 site. Almost all under the hood work on those sites was purposeful and productive. Likewise I have been employing a stable GTD set-up for more than the second half of the year. With the help of Google Calendar, Basecamp, and my iPhone I’ve actually done more working on my tasks than working on my task list.

  • More (hand)writing

There were two parts to this resolution: writing more and writing more by hand. I definitely progressed in handwriting, using an Italian fountain pen on yellow legal pads or in a Moleskine notebook. Every sermon I’ve preached in the last few months was scribbled first on paper. The conentration and joy I get from the writing process (not the penmanship) is worth the extra time and something I plan to continue. As for actually writing more? There was nothing prolific so I’m headed back to the writing board.

  • More (offline) reading

Book reading is back in a big way and my blog subscriptions are slipping in the right direction. Nevertheless I still find myself filling small banks of minutes with the banality of Google Reader or “opening all in tabs” instead of traversing another four pages of really beautiful or beneficial ground. Maybe some daily, personal internet protocol is in order for the new year.

  • More (out-loud) praying

Spontaneous prayer has been strong in the last couple months of 2007, and I’ve especially embraced my role as “head” prayer at home for meals or bedtime. I also know that time with God in private whets my mind, calms my worries, and quickens my affections yet scheduled times of struggle and lingering are still lower than desired. All that to say, I made progress with spacious room for improvement.

  • Be (radically) thankful

I have been thankful, and I’m thankful for that. I am both content with what I have and appreciative of an almost innumerable collection of tangible and intangible gifts from gracious people over the past year. As my kids grow and as my complete helplessness is further exposed, I’m thankful for God’s care. The repetition about the fear of God has not been in vain for me as I am really enjoying the process more (though not perfectly), whether traffic or interruptions or accidents as well as the obvious goods.

So overall there has been progress. I love my sheep, my family, and my Lord more than the same time last year. I think the increase in gray hair demonstrates that I’m (at least a little) wiser, not just older. I’m tired but eager to keep moving. I praise God for His strength behind my strides and blame my own sin for any and all steps back. Thank you, Lord, for being faithful to conform me into the image of Your Son; please don’t stop.

Why Godly Men Must Pray

Series | Prayer: A Man’s Most Difficult Struggle

Prayer is a struggle for most men, and yet manliness and prayerfulness go together. So why is it so important for men to pray? Obviously it is necessary for both men and women to pray. But even though prayer is not exclusively manly, I think it is especially manly.

This past summer I taught a message titled Men at Work where I identified three things that distinguish a godly, manly servant. Godly, manly servants Take Initiative, they Take Responsibility, and they Make Sacrifices (easily remembered by the abbreviation I.R.S., though some suggest switching the order and using the acronym SIR). Prayer is the difference maker in each one of these assignments that we might be godly men. To be a godly man, prayer is necessary to:

1. Take Initiative for the Right Things

Men don’t wait around for someone else to tell them what to do. That’s part of what it means to be a man and not a child. Men don’t need to have their hand held. They do what needs to be done and look for more things to do. They don’t just react, they pro-act. A godly man-servant is aggressive and decisive. They start the ball rolling.

But how will you know if you are taking initiative in the right direction? That’s why prayer is so important. Scripture is littered with examples of men who did not seek direction from God before making decisions. I recently read this past week about the apostasy of God’s people in Hosea and one example was their self-initiative.

They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not. (8:4)

Just the opposite was true of our ultimate example of manliness, Jesus. Before beginning His public ministry (and also immediately prior to the three temptations of Satan) Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days (see Matthew 4:1-11, especially verse 2). Just as significant, Luke 6:12-16 reveals that before choosing and calling disciples who would represent Him to the ends of the earth Jesus spent the whole night in prayer. He did not take initiative without seeking direction from His Father.

2. Take Responsibility in the Right Way

Godly men don’t make excuses. They do not blame other people for their problems or their mistakes. A godly man-servant doesn’t shirk responsibility, he shoulders it. They work hard for the sake of others.

But how will you have the strength to do that? Where will you get the wisdom to do that?

Over and over again in the gospels, before and after ministering to the crowds and healing sickness and preaching His kingdom message and training the Twelve, Jesus prayed. Even the Son of God depended on the Father as He bore responsibility.

3. Make Sacrifices for the Right Purpose

Men often indulge themselves. Too many times we try to see how much we can get someone to sacrifice for us. Instead our lives are to be spent for the sake of others. Men are called to give up their own lives, to spend themselves for their wives, their children, their disciples, and their friends. Often they must make tough choices, forsaking things that might be otherwise permissible for someone else’s benefit.

But how will you make sacrifices that show off God instead of yourself? The great danger is that we will make the sacrifice and then take the credit. In our pride we will be reluctant to direct the glory to God.

Again Jesus is our perfect example. Before His ultimate sacrifice we find Him praying (Matthew 26:36-46). He knew it was going to be difficult and painful, so much so that He requested three times that the cup might pass from Him. As He considered His coming death His soul was troubled.

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name. (John 12:27-28)

Jesus’ concern was that His sacrifice be for the Father’s glory, not His own. Of course the Father glorified the Son as the Son glorified the Father. But prayer played a key part in the Son’s purpose and perspective.

So the timing of our initiative, the manner of our responsibility, and the purpose of our sacrifices depend on prayer. Not just the what that men do is important, but when we do it, how we do it, and why we do it. A man can’t be a godly man without prayer.

Manliness and Prayerfulness

Series | Prayer: A Man’s Most Difficult Struggle

Yesterday I wrote that a man’s most difficult struggle is prayer. While prayer is a weakness for Christian men and women, at least three New Testament passage reveal a gender specific relationship between men and prayer.

Titus 2:6 (connected with 1 Peter 4:7)

When I addressed the ladies at the beginning of our Biblical Manhood/Womanhood series I went immediately to Titus 2. There Paul gives instructions through Titus to the various groups in the Cretan churches. I pointed out to the young women that all their various obligations center around the home.

But the younger men have one objective in verse 6 and it has no limitations or focus on a place. Instead it aims at a young man’s mind.

Urge younger men to be self-controlled.

Young men are to be self-controlled or “sober-minded.” The idea is to use one’s head with a focus on restraint, composure, and a practical kind of seriousness.

Probably more than anything else, young men today lack self-control. Instead they are lighthearted, careless, inattentive, concerned with the trivial, and self-indulgent. The requirement of self-control has benefits across the whole of a young man’s life, but we shouldn’t overlook the connection between self-control and praying. That link is made in 1 Peter 4:7.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

Self-control has benefits in all a man’s life, but self-control is especially important when it comes to prayer. Men must be self-controlled so they can pray. Prayer is that important for a man.

Obviously we had to take a logical step from Titus 2:6 to 1 Peter 4:7. But there are at least two more passages that reveal an explicit relationship between godly men and prayer.

1 Peter 3:7

Peter starts chapter 3 with some instructions for married people, for the women and for the men. He devoted the first six verses to the women and wrote just one to the men (perhaps that has something to do with our short attention span). Nevertheless his instruction to the men is short and sweet.

husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

This is amazing. Peter gives instruction to both the women and the men: women are to be submissive to their own husbands and men are to be thoughtful, appreciative, and considerate to their wives. And notice that both responsibilities have a purpose. In verse 1 women are to submit so that (the unbelieving husbands) may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives. That is powerful submission! God may use a woman’s submission to save her husband. So wouldn’t we expect something similar as a purpose for the man’s right treatment of his wife? Shouldn’t we read something like, “live with your wives in an understanding way so that she may be won by your considerate conduct”? But instead the purpose is so that your prayers may not be hindered.

A couple things stand out about this. First, Peter assumes that the men were already praying. He doesn’t say “so that you can start to pray” but that you can keep praying unhindered. Second, Peter implies that disrupted prayer is a tragedy, similar to the tragedy of an unbelieving life. On the other hand, unhindered prayer is (at least loosely) compared to salvation! Whether these unhindered prayers are the husbands personal prayers (which I tend to think) or family prayers the husband leads, prayer for men is a consummate work. Men must not let anything hinder their prayers–even the closest earthly relationship they have. That’s how significant prayer is for a man.

1 Timothy 2:8

One more passage demonstrates that men and prayer and inextricably linked. In 1 Timothy 2 Paul gave instructions for various groups in the church. After urging that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people” and fleshing that out in verses 1-7, he describes special duties for women and men in verse 8-15.

For sake of comparison we see that the women are supposed to adorn themselves with certain character traits and good works. This is no throw-away instruction. It drills to the core of what is important for a woman. Likewise, at the center of importance for men is the charge to pray.

The men were to pray in every place. This was the responsibility of men in each of the churches all across the region. Men must pray lifting up holy hands which is a reference not so much to the position or posture or prayer, but to their character, since “hands” was a way to talk about one’s life, the things one touches. So men are to pray with a holy life. And they are to pray without anger or quarreling. The bottom line is, godly men pray.

Manliness, prayerfulness, and godliness go together. And again, even though prayer is no less fundamental for biblical femininity, tomorrow we’ll consider why praying is especially essential for a man.

A Man’s Most Difficult Struggle

Series | Prayer: A Man’s Most Difficult Struggle

A man’s most difficult struggle is not dealing with a specific sin (like anger or lust or pride), though sin is a large part of what makes this struggle so hard.

Each and every godly man has this “struggle” in common. We read in Scripture that men like Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, David, Solomon, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Jonah, the apostles, as well as Jesus Himself all worked through it, and most of them did it regularly.

Not only did it impact these well known Bible characters, men of every occupation in all kinds of situation did it. Kings, priests, prophets, farmers, and servants all did it. Men did it when they were building or battling, when they were mourning or doing ministry, when they were traveling, when they were tired, when they were tempted, when they were planning, when they needed provision, and when they needed protection. Godly men everywhere prayed!

There is maybe no more important, consistent characteristic of a godly man than prayer. That’s why I spent my one message in our biblical manhood series with the young men in our student ministry on prayer. Regardless of vocation, regardless of culture, regardless of spiritual giftedness, a man who is godly, a man who lives according to the Bible, prays.

Yet prayer is also probably the most difficult struggle a man has. Earlier this morning Joe Thorn posted about the difficulty of, and our weakness in, prayer. And there are at least a few reasons why I call prayer a “struggle.”

The biblical reason I call prayer is a struggle is found in Colossians 4:12. Paul wrote to the Colossian church instructing them about the preeminence of Christ so that they would become complete in Christ, spiritually mature, knowing God’s will and walking in a manner of life fully pleasing to God. Near the end of his letter Paul included greetings from Epaphras–one of Colosse’s own, apparently the one who started the church in Colosse, and the one who came to Paul for help. Paul told the Colossians that Epaphras was always struggling on your behalf in his prayers. That knocks my socks off every time I read it.

The word struggling is a term Paul frequently uses in reference to ministry; it is the Greek word ἀγωνίζομαι. It means “to struggle, to fight, to battle” for something. It is to give all you’ve got for a particular purpose. Prayer requires that kind of effort; it is that kind of fight; it is a struggle.

The theological reason I say prayer is a struggle is because everything about us men shouts pride. But prayer and pride do not fit together. Prayer says we’re needy, pride says we aren’t going to ask anybody for anything. Prayer says we’re weak, pride says me and my kid can beat up you and your honor roll kid. Prayer says I can’t figure it out on my own, pride says I don’t need your input. Prayer says God gets all the glory, pride says I’d like a little of the spotlight for myself. So our own hearts–full of man-pride–make prayer a struggle.

And doesn’t experience itself confirm that prayer is a struggle? We’d often rather sleep than pray. We’d rather play than pray. We’d rather work than pray, even when the work is the right thing, since after all, there’s a lot of important work to do. I love how Piper puts it,

Both our flesh and our culture scream against spending an hour on our knees beside a desk piled with papers. It is un-American (un-manly) to be so impractical as to devote oneself to prayer and meditation two hours a day. (Brothers, We are not Professionals, p.55)

But though prayer is a difficult struggle, it also carries tremendous significance for us as men. I want to illustrate from Scripture why I think prayer is an especially manly thing and tomorrow we’ll look at three passages that explicitly connect being a man of God with being a man of prayer. All that to say, prayer is the toughest and best struggle for a man.

Seconds and Inches

Last Thursday night I was in a somewhat significant car accident. I was not injured and as far as I know neither was the other driver. But there were major consequences to the Fahrvergnügen.

*

God uses many things to make sure that He has our attention; traumatic crashes certainly count. Even though I avoided life-altering injury, death, or even a visit to the Emergency Room, when I replay it in my head I realize I did nothing to protect myself. Seconds and inches completely out of my control were the difference. If the crash had occurred moments earlier or later, if my head would have jerked just another inch into the driver side window, or a million other possibilities, things might be really different today.

The collision occurred as I was on my way to meet a friend to discuss the final few chapters of The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink. As my Passat was towed away the mom of the other driver saw the book and said, “That’s a good book.” Indeed.

My last few days (especially when driving) have been constantly consumed with thinking about moments and breath and providence. I’m thankful for big and small reminders to be God-conscious and I’m thankful for God’s gracious sovereignty over seconds and inches.

Is This Nirvana?

Or, Why Being a Youth Pastor is No Paradise.

Phil Johnson recently wrote a pungent post that smells like teen spirit on the dangers of dumbing down teaching to young people. He pointed out at least two problems with this minimalist approach to youth ministry.

First, most strategies intended to attract young people to the church are counterproductive. This is because you can’t win someone to spiritual, eternal realities when you focus on earthly, temporal activities. Why would they want to stick around for God when the pizza is gone?

Second, Phil stated,

Youth ministries…deliberately shield their young people from the hard truths and strong demands of Jesus. They tailor their worship so worldly youth can feel as comfortable in the church environment as possible. They squander the best opportunities of those formative student years by minimizing spiritual instruction while emphasizing fun and games. They let their teens live with the false notions that believing in Christ is easy, sanctification is optional, and religion is supposed to be fun and always suited to our liking.

In other words, dumbed down discipleship is not really discipleship to Christ at all. Not only do we fail to win their interest in church we lose their souls. Minimalist youth ministry actually keeps young people from Christ rather than attracting them to Him.

That’s not good.

Of course, that is the typical approach of most youth groups and that’s certainly how we youth pastors are perceived. Because of that it is not a good day to be a youth pastor. When I meet people at Starbucks (or on a plane or at Burger King or wherever) I often wince when they ask me what I do. How do you humbly say, “I’m a youth pastor, but probably not exactly like the ones you know”?

On the other hand, it is a great day to be a youth pastor. As Phil said, we have “the best opportunities of those most formative student years.” Young people make devoted disciples and fanatical worshipers. Biblical churches and pastors will charge their youth to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Young people will reap great spiritual rewards as they take responsibility in the Body and “when each part is working properly, [it] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” That is as close to heaven on earth as we get.


Comments (copied)

Drew said November 15, 2007 at 10:57 am:

Hey Sean, I know exactly what you mean about telling people you’re a youth pastor. I’ve actually had people ask me when I’m going to become a real pastor. It seems that the evangelical church’s opinion of youth ministry is at an all time low. In the context of my church, this has proven to be a real blessing b/c the contrast between a Purpose Driven Youth Ministry model and a biblical model of discipleship and sanctification could not be more stark. When parents see what it looks like to minister according to Colossians 1:28-29 they crave that kind of ministry, not just for their kids but for themselves as well.

Sarah said November 15, 2007 at 9:54 pm:

I am so thankful for the great, true, and solid “food” we get in One28.

In chapel this past week the speaker said just as one footnote about how youth pastors today are expected to be all fun and be jumping around crazy without being sensible. Thank you for the reminder, that helps me remember to be thankful.

Mijah said November 15, 2007 at 11:14 pm:

I totally agree that the church must see that souls are at stake in youth ministry.

P.S. – Second to last paragraph, last sentence: I think you wanted a “not” in that.

SKH said November 16, 2007 at 10:31 am:

Drew, it is one of the greatest joys of ministry when God vindicates His name and His ministry model. While part of His plan apparently includes not letting everyone “get it,” there’s nothing better as an under-shepherd than when He enables sheep to get it.

Sarah, thank you for the encouragement!

Mijah, it’s like we’re playing for keeps or something. And thanks for the typographical post script; changes have been made.

Dave Cleland said November 16, 2007 at 10:46 am:

“Why would they want to stick around for God when the pizza is gone?”

I had hoped Cat Tuesday would be the hook that kept ‘em coming after the last slice was gone. Alas, I was wrong.

Seriously though, even with all the statistics floating around out there about kids leaving church after high school most churches continue to look for answers in the wrong places. It just goes to show that all statistics can do is shock. Unless churches are providing a biblical alternative to popular youth ministry parents are still feeling around in the dark for a solution.

Putting Wounded Egos Out of Their Misery

Pride is bad. What’s more, pride is sickeningly ugly. It is a frightful thing to find in the mirror and a hideous thing to see in someone else. It introduces itself in inopportune situations. It is no respecter of persons. It is enough to damn a man to everlasting wrath.

Pride also takes assorted shapes and sizes though some displays of pride are more familiar and others are often unexplored. The following quotes are from What Jesus Demands from the World and they expose two standard sorts of self-admiration with surgical accuracy.

Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.” Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have sacrificed so much.” …The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego, and the desire is not really for others to see them as helpless but as heroes. The need that self-pity feels does not come from a sense of unworthiness but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride.

And then just a little down the page,

A person can seem to feel unworthy by constantly depreciating himself in public, but all the while feel angry that others do not recognize this as a virtue. (p.126)

I have been both of those proud people and battle against them today by the Spirit and truth. I also know both types of proud people and struggle for them by prayer, preaching, and patience. But let us not be proud. If we boast, let it be in the Lord. If we pity, let it be those kept from salvation by their pride. If we are angry, let it be toward the flesh that blinds us to how unworthy we really are. And if our ego is wounded, let us put it out of its misery by putting it to death.

Persuading Men to Love God by Serving Idols

Series | ComMission

A loud voice continues to emerge in some parts of Christianity, with a heart for the spiritually lost, concerned that Christians are failing to fulfill our commission, afraid that our friends, family, and communities are going to hell, and confident that the church is to blame (at least in large part).

In classic American entrepreneurial spirit, many pastors and other church leaders have recognized the problem (namely, people don’t seem to be coming to Christ or to church), concluded that our formula for evangelism must be flawed or faulty, and then created new approaches, strategies, and programs. Well meaning sheep who also have a heart for the lost see flashes of success when all kinds of unbelievers flock to these fresh, imaginative, creative, emerging churches.

But just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it is according to sound doctrine, and I wonder if we are discerning enough to suspect if what seems like success might actually be a spiritual wreck.

In fact, it is a wreck. And most of all this wreck has wrought significant damage to the preaching and pursuit of personal sanctification. Making disciples has been limited to conversion and building up the saints is apparently not only unnecessary, it is actually a hindrance to reaching unbelievers. Of course that approach tears down the church even if attendance numbers increase.

As I mentioned in the previous post our commission is not just conversion. The Great Commission is not fulfilled by making a great number of converts but disciples. Those who repent and believe must also be taught to observe everything that Christ commanded. That means God’s mission is broader than evangelism, it also requires edification and equipping, so God gave gifted men to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

Churches and ministries focused primarily on conversion may be strong on justification but are often silent when it comes to sanctification. This is visible both in the methodology of the leaders as well as the lifestyle of the flock. Herein pastors contextualize the gospel and rationalize every sort of flesh-pampering, sin-minimizing, cross-eclipsing outreach. The people are comfortable because the standards are low and the accountability absent.

I think at least four overlapping problems surface in these situations.

  1. Little to no emphasis on sanctification and obedience. However, sanctification is God’s will for every believer. As obedient children we must be holy as He is holy in all our conduct. Disciples must learn to obey all the Lord commands not merely confess Him as Lord.
  2. Lack of love for heaven and eternity. Yet those who have been raised with Christ are commanded to seek and set their minds on things above. We are to rest our hope fully on coming grace at the revelation of Christ and anticipate our final salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. We are merely exiles on earth; our citizenship is in heaven.
  3. Inability to recognize and repent from sin. But there is no knowledge of truth, no forgiveness of sins, no hope of eternal life, or salvation without repentance. Besides, Jesus did not come to make it possible for men to enjoy sin but to save sinners from it.
  4. Unwillingness to define and distinguish worldliness. Yet Jesus declared we are not of the world. Christians should be busy turning the world upside down not trying to adopt as much of it as we can get away with. We’re prohibited from loving the world or the things in the world because we know friendship with the world is enmity with God. Instead we are crucified to the world and should no longer live conformed to it.

And so any method of making disciples that does not emphasize increasing Christlike holiness is not following the Great Commission. Not only that, it is wrong to think that we will persuade men to love God by serving their idols. Let’s not be guilty of letting men think they can keep their life, gain the whole world, and still save their souls.